Articles Posted in Health Insurance

In honor of MS Awareness Week, we would like to devote this blog to successfully proving and establishing a disability claim based on Multiple Sclerosis.  We find that most of our clients who have MS have struggled to remain at work, but then reach a point where they can no longer continue. In such circumstances, the carrier may ask “what changed?”  It is helpful to show that the condition deteriorated even though the client struggled to remain at work. There are steps you can take to help document the progression of the disease:

  1. Make sure that your doctor’s records accurately describe your symptoms.  Many feel that they do not have to describe their fatigue, migraines, muscle weakness, etc. on each visit to their physician(s) because the symptoms are just naturally a part of the disease. This is true, but your medical records must contain a description of the symptoms you are experiencing.  If the medical records do not contain an accurate description, a subsequent letter from your physician may be perceived as inconsistent with the medical records.
  2. If you are experiencing “adverse” side effects from your medication, this should also be reported to your physician. Again, many do not report unpleasant side effects because they are to be expected. However, the side effects and their disabling potential should be accurately described in the medical records.

While we certainly do not recommend it, you may choose to handle your own short term disability or long term disability claim. A side note: we strongly recommend you do not handle an STD or an LTD appeal without legal representation.

If you decide to make a disability claim on your own, there are a few things you should keep in mind when dealing with an insurance company: (1) insurance companies are for-profit businesses with an eye on profits; (2) everything you provide to them during your claim goes into your claim file; and (3) you cannot rely on an insurance company to obtain documentation to support your claim.

Why are these things so important?

Before the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, also called ACA or Obamacare, under the guise of making health insurance more affordable, health insurers whittled away at the health services covered by individual and small group health plans. Slowly but steadily, health plans covered fewer and fewer services. Individual and small group health plans were a vulnerable target for health insurers. The purchasers of these plans do not have the same bargaining power a large employer does, and often were given insurance with substantially less favorable terms than large group policies. ACA was enacted in part to ensure that all individual and small group plans provide meaningful health insurance coverage.

To accomplish this goal, ACA requires all non-grandfathered health plans in the individual and small group markets to cover ten Essential Health Benefits. The Essential Health Benefits are:

  1. Ambulatory patient services – Medical treatment one receives without being admitted to a hospital. An example would be a check-up at a doctor’s office, or minor surgical procedures that do not require an overnight hospital stay. The size of a plan’s network may vary, but it must be “sufficient” to meet ACA guidelines

Most people with long term disability (“LTD”) insurance obtain that coverage through their employer. Thus, most of us are stuck with whatever insurance company and policy our employer chooses to purchase. And while you might think to yourself, “they’re all the same, so who cares which insurance company my employer decides to go with,” nothing could be further from the truth.

LTD insurance policies vary widely depending on which insurance company is issuing the policy. Some companies offer good, comprehensive coverage that treats every type of disability more or less the same. Under these policies, regardless of whether your disability is due to physical or psychiatric reasons, you will be paid LTD benefits as long as you remain disabled under the terms of the policy.

Most LTD policies, however, will differentiate between physical disabilities and psychiatric disabilities. If your disability is “due to” a mental and nervous condition, or worse yet simply “caused or contributed to by” a mental and nervous condition, most insurers will only pay you LTD benefits for a maximum of 2 years (versus paying until age 65 for a physical disability). This distinction provides LTD insurance companies with one of their favorite tactics: They will cut off benefits for people under the 2 year limitation by arguing that while you might have some physical problems, the real reason you can’t work is because you’re suffering from depression/stress/anxiety.

Long before I became a lawyer, all the way back in childhood, I hated when people spoke in absolutes. For those who don’t know, speaking in absolutes is using all or nothing terms like: always/never; best/worst; everybody/nobody; can’t; nothing/everything; all the time; all/nothing; constantly; definitely; etc. I dislike absolutes because while on the surface they appear to make a message stronger (“this always happens to me” or “my mom’s cooking is the best”), they actually do the opposite by weakening your credibility.

Does anything happen “always”?

Think about it. Does anything happen “always”?  Can you definitively say there’s no one on the planet who cooks better than your mom? Of course not! But in addition to saying something that you can’t prove, you have also opened yourself up to allow people to be able to prove – very easily I might add – that you are a liar. And once they can prove you lied about that one thing, they can then turn around and use that lie to cast doubt on everything else you say.

As you probably know, insurance companies are masters of fine print. You may think you have coverage for a condition or injury under your insurance, but when the worst happens, you may find out that you weren’t actually covered after all. Or, you may be covered, but you didn’t have as much coverage as you thought you did.

You can’t always protect yourselves from these gotchas. Many of us have insurance through our employers, and we don’t have power to negotiate the terms of those policies.

However, you can still avoid nasty surprises by reading the fine print in advance. Medical insurance is the type of insurance most people are familiar with, and while you don’t need to know your entire insurance policy by heart, you should know the basics of calculating your benefits – i.e., what your deductible, coinsurance, copay, and out-of-pocket maximums are.

During an office visit with your doctor, she recommends you undergo a treatment you’ve never had before. You call your health insurance company, and a representative assures you the treatment is covered by your health insurance plan. Can you rely on what the representative says? Will the treatment be covered by your insurance?

Caution is Key

Be cautious when relying on what health insurance representatives tell you over the phone. The representative can give you general information about what services are covered by your health insurance, but she cannot guarantee that you have met all the requirements under the terms of your policy for the treatment to be covered for you.

Maybe you’ve heard (or experienced) the tragic story of someone becoming ill, forgetting or being unable to pay their life insurance premium, only to see the policy lapse at the time it is needed most. It’s more common than you may realize, and at our law firm we see it quite often. It is terribly unfortunate.

What most people don’t realize, however, is that there is law in California that may come to the rescue. That law is known as the “notice prejudice” rule. The rule emanates from a judicially created doctrine dating back to at least 1963, when the California Supreme Court decided Campbell v. Allstate Ins. Co. (1963) 60 Cal.2d 303, 305. The rule is simple: it prohibits insurers from denying insurance benefits on the ground that the insured presented an untimely claim, unless the insurer can show it was prejudiced by the delay. It is expressly designed to prohibit insurance companies from disclaiming liability based on a “technical escape hatch,” and to protect insureds from the unfair forfeiture of their benefits on procedural grounds. (The rule is also widespread; the majority of states impose a similar requirement on insurers.)

So, how does the rule apply to lapsed life insurance? Well, it is important to state at the outset that it only applies in certain circumstances. One of the most common examples is when the life insurance policy also includes a provision that premium payments will be excused or “waived” in the event the insured becomes disabled. This is usually referred to as a “life waiver of premium provision” (LWOP) or something similar. Many policies have such provisions but policyholders just aren’t aware of the benefit.

The opioid epidemic has impacted us all in some way. Everyone has a friend or a family member whose lives were affected by this growing crisis. Drug overdoses have contributed to lowering the life expectancy of the average American. Because of the stigma attached to addiction, America has been slow to react to the epidemic and work with those afflicted with addiction to come to a solution to the problem.

Sadly, greed fueled the epidemic when some companies realized they could profit by encouraging doctors to over-prescribe medications and hide information about the addictiveness of opioids. Drug manufacturers have spent millions marketing to doctors and patients, often minimizing information about potential side effects – including the strong addictive nature of opioids. Litigation is plentiful against the companies that produced and marketed opioids to the public.  One example is in Massachusetts, where the attorney general has brought a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma – the company that manufactures Oxycontin – for unfair and deceptive trade practices.

You can read this article to learn more about the unfair deceptive marketing done by Purdue Pharma here.

Bipolar Disorder, a brain based disorder, causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, as well as the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks (National Institute of Mental Health). Bipolar Disorder is a serious mental illness that affects a great many Americans every year. Kantor & Kantor has worked with many clients who suffer with Bipolar Disorder, and such clients are often affected in a way that is life altering and debilitating. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for these clients to face many obstacles and complications when making a claim for long term disability benefits (LTD) for Bipolar Disorder.

Why are these Long Term Disability claims so difficult?

The first issue that can arise is difficulty in proving that you are disabled (under the terms of your long term disability policy’s definition of disabled).  While you and your doctor both know that you are no longer able to work, meeting a policy definition of disability takes more than just that knowledge.  Unlike a back condition or an autoimmune disease, which can be shown through objective measures, objectively establishing that you have disabling Bipolar Disorder can be tricky. Typically, the diagnosis is made by a therapeutic psychologist. The condition is then treated medically by a prescribing psychiatrist, as well as through therapy with a clinical psychologist.  Thus, there really is no lab test or other objective measure to prove you have the condition.  Your treating providers’ diagnosis, based on their examination and treatment of you, is the objective proof – but you must have their help in getting that information to your LTD carrier.

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