Articles Posted in LongTerm Disability (LTD) Insurance

We represent many clients who have been denied long-term disability benefits in lawsuits against the insurance companies who have denied their claims. Many of our clients ask, “What is the value of my disability claim?”

This question usually presents itself in the context of mediation, which is a form of voluntary alternative dispute resolution, because our clients must decide whether to take the insurance company’s lump sum settlement offer. There are many factors to consider. To aid our clients’ decision-making process, we will prepare a “present value calculation” designed to capture the total value of all benefits in dispute.  In most circumstances, the value of your benefit can be broken up into two parts:  the past-due benefits and the future benefits.  Benefits, both past and future, are calculated by taking your net monthly benefit (total gross monthly benefit minus offsets” for other income you receive) and multiplying by the number of months benefits are due. However, past and future benefits have to be calculated differently in order to account for inflation.

Past-due benefits are calculated by multiplying the net monthly benefit by the number of months of past-due benefits you are owed. Then, we add interest to compensate you for the fact that, had you been properly paid your past-due benefits, those benefits would have been worth more in the past than they are in the present, because inflation has made the value of each dollar decrease over time.  Notably, the insurance carriers seldom factor in interest on the past-due benefits in the context of mediation. However, if your case does not settle and the court makes a decision in your favor, it has the discretion to award prejudgment interest on the past-due benefit. The percentages that courts award vary and range from the nominal interest amount rate dictated by 28 U.S.C. § 1961 (1-year constant maturity Treasury yield) to 10% interest. See, e.g., Blankenship v. Liberty Life Assur. Co. of Bos., 486 F.3d 620, 628 (9th Cir. 2007) (affirming award of prejudgment interest at a rate of 10.01 percent, compounded monthly); Oster v. Standard Ins. Co., 768 F. Supp. 2d 1026 (N.D. Cal. 2011) (finding current U.S. Treasury Rate at .3% too low and awarding prejudgment interest at the rate of 5% ).

In addition to dealing with short term disability benefits, long term disability benefits, and health insurance denials, many of our clients are also tasked with keeping track of changes to their Social Security benefits. Here are some of the changes that will take effect on January 1, 2020 for Social Security recipients –

  • Social Security recipients will get a 1.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in their monthly benefits starting in January. The average individual retired Social Security beneficiary is expected to see a monthly benefit jump from $1,479 to $1,503, an increase of roughly $24 per month or $288 for the year.
  • As a result of the COLA, the maximum monthly benefit a single recipient can get also will grow. That benefit will increase from $2,861 per month in 2019 to $3,011 per month in 2020.

A functional capacity evaluation (FCE) is a series of tests that is used to measure a person’s functional physical ability to perform certain work-related tasks. A good, reliable FCE has validity measures embedded within the tests to show that the person taking the tests is putting forth the most effort he can, given his physical limitations. FCEs have many purposes, but in long term disability, we use them to provide objective support of a client’s physical restrictions and limitations with respect to his own occupation or any occupation, if that is the stage of his claim.

Often, in LTD cases, your physician will be asked to complete physical capacity forms. Having an FCE report will assist your doctor in this endeavor by providing her with the exact measurements she needs to provide her opinion.

If you have a condition such as degenerative disc disease, back pain with radiculopathy, fibromyalgia, or many other conditions that result in physical limitations, an FCE can be a very good tool to precisely measure exactly how limited you are by your disabling conditions. We can then use the FCE results to gather further support for your claim by giving it to your physician for her to review and use when she writes a letter of support.

Most ERISA-governed long term disability policies include a limitation on the amount of time they will pay benefits when the disabling condition is one that the policy defines as a “mental/nervous” condition.  Policies vary as to what they include in their definition of “mental/nervous” conditions and the wording of the limitation varies, too.  A note about the wording of the limitation – it is extremely important how the policy words the limitation in terms of how evidence of a condition such as depression or anxiety is presented in a claim.

Generally, the limitation is 24 months of benefits will be paid if the claimant is disabled by a mental/nervous condition such as depression or anxiety. There are conditions, such as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, migraines, and disability after heart attack to name a few, that either have depression as a symptom of the disease itself, and/or result in depression from dealing with the disease.  In such cases, you may not be disabled at all by depression but if it is mentioned in your medical records – and it very likely will be – very often an insurance company will seize upon the depression and attempt to apply the policy’s 24-month benefit limitation to your claim.

If your only disabling condition is a mental/nervous condition, and your policy contains a 24-month limitation, it may also contain a 12-month extension of benefits should you be hospitalized for your mental health condition at the end of the 24-month period.  These are highly technical exceptions that often require the assistance of attorneys who understand how these exceptions are applied.

Breast-Cancer-Awareness
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States.

  • In 2019, an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S. as well as 62,930 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.
  • Men also get breast cancer, but it is not very common. Less than 1% of breast cancers occur in men.

If you have a condition such as migraine headaches, vertigo, or chronic pain, a condition that cannot be captured by “objective diagnostic measures” such as X-rays, MRIs, PET scans, etc., you still need evidence to prove to the insurer that you are disabled.

While letters from your physician describing your symptoms, their impact on your ability to function at work, and the underlying case are helpful as are the office notes from your doctor, we find that daily logs are very helpful. Logs, kept over a period of weeks or months, paint an ongoing picture of the number of times you are suffering from your disabling condition.

In the log, you must be sure to mark down the date, the type of symptom you are experiencing, e,g, – a migraine headache – the quality of the pain, the strength of the pain, and the duration of the pain. Over the course of several months, these logs can really help support a disability claim when they show a person is suffering from 3 or 4 migraines per week and the headaches are lasting for hours or days at a time. These logs are quite compelling when they complement the medical records.

An Independent Medical Examination (IME) is an examination by a medical doctor hired to examine you and opine on your disease state and whether it is disabling. If so, the IME can help determine the degree to which is it disabling and its impact on your ability to perform the duties of your own or any occupation, depending upon the stage of your LTD claim.

IMEs are typically quite expensive so we are judicious in when we recommend them to our clients. We recommend them in a variety of situations and this blog does not cover every situation. Of course, we make these determinations on a case-by-case basis for each of our clients but we can offer some general information here.

If your attending physician does not wish to participate in the appeal process by writing letters, responding to medical record reviews from the insurer, or completing questionnaires necessary to a successful appeal, then an IME may be appropriate for your case.  Another situation in which we might recommend an IME is if you suffer from a particular medical condition and there is an IME provider who is a well-known expert in the diagnosis and treatment of that condition.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., was enacted to provide minimum standards for voluntarily established plans by employers in the private industry for the benefit of their employees. Despite its name, ERISA also applies to disability benefits an employee may be entitled to if s/he becomes unable to work due to a disability, whether or not it was work-related.

Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits, in contrast, is a federal government program, and is available to most people, with certain exceptions, who have worked in any industry and contributed to the Social Security trust fund via the FICA tax.

Most ERISA plans encourage, or even require, that an employee seeking long term disability (“LTD”) benefits also apply for SSDI because any amount paid by Social Security is an offset for the insurance company, making its payments substantially less. However, being awarded SSDI benefits does not mean that the claimant will also qualify for LTD benefits because insurance companies are not bound by the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA”) determinations. Similarly, of course, the decision denying SSDI does not mean that the claimant will not qualify for LTD benefits under an ERISA plan.  But, an ERISA plan administrator is likely to use a SSDI denial as evidence that a claimant does not meet the ERISA plan’s definition of disability.

The correct response is, “maybe, or maybe not, depending on the facts, and the state in which you reside.”

Insurance policies very often have time limits on the submission of a claim for benefits. In some states, those deadlines are VERY strictly construed, and once the deadline has passed, it does become “too late” to make a claim.

However, more than half of the states apply some form of an insurance rule called the “notice prejudice” doctrine.  Simply put, even if an insurance policy imposes a time limit for the submission of the claim, if certain rules are met, a claim can be submitted after the time limit if the late notice does not “prejudice” the insurance company’s ability to investigate the claim.  However, that is just a basic summary of the rule.  In the states that apply some form of the notice prejudice doctrine, its application differs from state to state.  In some states, the insured making the late claim must demonstrate a “good reason” for making a late claim.  In others, the burden falls on the insured to prove that no prejudice would be suffered by the insurance company because of the late claim submission.

Many people submit short term disability and long term disability claims on their own, without consulting or engaging an attorney to assist them. We think you should consider hiring an attorney to assist you in this endeavor. Ensuring that you have all of the necessary information to get your claim approved with the first submission can be a daunting task. You are already not feeling well because you are disabled. Moreover, you do not know the ins and outs of the disability insurance world and we attorneys do.

There are several nuances to this process.  Disability attorneys know what documents to help you gather including not only your medical records but additional evidence in support of your claim such as independent medical evaluations, functional capacity evaluations and other medical exams. We also know how to help you get the necessary vocational evidence to support your claim that you can no longer perform the duties of your own occupation.

If you submit your claim on your own and it is denied, you will have to submit an administrative appeal in order to preserve your right to benefits. You will likely come to us at this point and we will advise you on what was missing from your initial claim that resulted in the denial. If you hire an attorney at the initial claim stage, while it is not a guarantee that benefits will be approved, if they are approved, it is certainly a time saver for you.

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