Articles Posted in LongTerm Disability (LTD) Insurance

Yahoo Finance published an article about how insurers try to prevent individuals from obtaining disability benefits. While the article discusses Canadian insurers, our experience is that the tactics described in that article also happen in the United States.

This blog elaborates on some of the points raised in the article, especially as they relate to ERISA insureds. The Yahoo article observed:

Surveillance is a common tactic. Insurers will hire private investigators to try to catch you in the act of doing something a disabled or injured person couldn’t, like moving a ladder or other heavy objects.

We represent a number of clients who suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis.  This often misunderstood and “invisible” disease causes extreme pain for its sufferers.  On top of the pain, many also deal with the disbelief of friends, family and employers as to the disabling nature of their illness.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (“RA”) is a chronic disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks joint tissue and causes inflammation that can spread throughout the body.  It can also cause excruciating pain.  Because there are very few visible symptoms during most stages of this disease, its sufferers appear to be fine when in reality, they are in extreme pain.

Another difficult aspect of RA, from a disability standpoint, is that there is no single test for diagnosing the condition. Rather, it is diagnosed by clinical evaluation, lab tests and imaging. This makes meeting your long term disability plan’s definition of disabled more difficult as insurers are often looking for “objective evidence” of disability.

Researchers at Stanford University recently made exciting and significant progress toward developing a possible diagnostic test for chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME/CFS. In a pilot study of 40 people, half healthy and half with ME/CFS, all of the patients with ME/CFS showed a potential biomarker, where the healthy individuals did not.  More details can be seen HERE

As sufferers of ME/CFS know, the struggle to obtain not only treatment, but mere confirmation of the existence of a real disease, can be overwhelming. While the new test itself is still viewed with significant skepticism due to the study’s small sample size, it could be the first step in finding a reliable, objective test to confirm the presence of this debilitating disease.

Disability insurance companies deny claims based on ME/CFS at an extraordinary rate; not because these claims are not righteous. Rather, without a medically accepted diagnostic test, insurers can dismiss your devastating limitations as mere “subjective reports.” Fortunately for consumers, insurers’ attempts to dismiss such claims can be fought, and won, with the right expertise.

Long term disability policies frequently have two different definitions for disability. The first provides benefits if one is unable to perform their “own occupation.” To determine benefits under these criteria, the carrier often looks at the “material and substantial duties” of the insured’s occupation and whether the insured can perform those duties with his or her restrictions and limitations.

After 24 months, the criteria often change to whether the insured can perform “any occupation” for which he or she is suited by education, training and experience.  Most, but not all policies, also expressly include “station in life” criteria.  This means the carrier must also consider the insured’s prior earnings and any alternate occupation identified by the carrier must pay earnings commensurate to the insured’s prior occupation.

We frequently see carriers terminate benefits at the “any occupation” phase of the Plan based on mythical occupations. For example, Hartford has terminated benefits for our clients, stating that the insured can be a “Lens Inserter” or a “Jacket Preparer.”  The carriers take the position that it does not matter if the job actually exists in the national economy. Since the occupations are identified by the outdated Dictionary of Occupational Titles, the carriers believe that they are suitable alternative occupations.

It seems we are handling an increasing number of Lupus cases, so we thought we would write about the illness and the organization that provides information, support and education for those who suffer from Lupus.

The Lupus Foundation works to find a cure, to advance research, to increase knowledge, to empower the community and to ensure that those living with the disease enjoy the best quality of life possible. http://www.lupus.org/about

This organization can provide valuable information for our clients with Lupus and their families on topics that include: understanding the illness, coping with a recent diagnosis, managing Lupus and support for care partners and family. These are just a few examples of the many resources available on the Lupus Foundations’ website.

First reported in 2011, Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma, referred to as BIA-ALCL, is a rare and highly treatable type of lymphoma that can develop around breast implants. This is a cancer of the immune system, not a type of breast cancer. However, when caught early, BIA-ALCL is usually curable.

BIA-ALCL occurs most frequently in patients who have breast implants with textured surfaces. BIA-ALCL has been found with both silicone and saline implants and both breast cancer reconstruction and cosmetic patients. To date, there are no confirmed BIA-ALCL cases that involve only a smooth implant.

Common symptoms of BIA-ALCL include breast enlargement, pain, asymmetry, lump in the breast or armpit, overlying skin rash, hardening of the breast, or a large fluid collection typically developing at least more than one year after receiving an implant, and on average 8 to 10 years after receiving an implant.

Many large companies offer employees “self-insured” or “self-funded” ERISA plans to provide disability insurance or health insurance benefits. However, these companies are not in the business of administering health or disability claims. This makes sense. Boeing doesn’t know how to evaluate a short term disability claim. Intel isn’t in the long term disability business. AT&T doesn’t know how to read medical billing codes. So, instead of trying to do this itself, most companies hire other companies to administer the disability or health insurance claims.

These “third-party” companies are either in the business of administering ERISA benefit plans (e.g. Sedgwick and Reed Group) or are already administering these types of claims because they offer medical or disability insurance themselves (e.g. Cigna and Aetna). In theory, a benefit of this structure is that the entity making the claims decision is not the same entity that has to pay the claim. There is no structural conflict of interest.

How do courts view this type of structure if a lawsuit is filed? In such a situation there was a denial of disability benefits or a medical claim was denied. If the ERISA Plan conferred discretionary authority to the claim administrator – and almost all do this – the court reviews the denial of benefits under the plan for an abuse of discretion. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Brunch, 489 U.S. 101, 115 (1989). Once the court determines that the insurance policy unambiguously grants discretion to the entity that denied the claim – here the third party administrator – the court must determine whether the administrator or fiduciary was operating under a conflict of interest. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. (MetLife) v. Glenn, 554 U.S. 105 (2008) (“Often the entity that administers the plan, such as an employer or an insurance company, both determines whether an employee is eligible for benefits and pays benefits out of its own pocket. We here decide that this dual role creates a conflict of interest; that a reviewing court should consider that conflict as a factor in determining whether the plan administrator abused its discretion in denying benefits; and that the significance of the factor will depend upon the circumstances of the particular case.”); Abatie v. Alta Health & Life Ins. Co., 458 F.3d 955, 965 (9th Cir. 2006) (“Abuse of discretion review applies to a discretion-granting plan even if the administrator has a conflict of interest. But Firestone also makes clear that the existence of a conflict of interest is relevant to how a court conducts abuse of discretion review.”).

Disability is not measured only by one’s ability to lift, walk, stand, sit, etc.  Rather, the California definition of total disability in a policy insuring one’s ability to perform their own occupation is:

“A disability that renders one unable to perform with reasonable continuity the substantial and material acts necessary to pursue his usual occupation in the usual or customary way.”

In policies insuring one’s ability to perform “any occupation” or “any reasonable occupation,” the definition has been stated as:

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. The cause of MS is still unknown – scientists believe the disease is triggered by an as-yet-unidentified environmental factor in a person who is genetically predisposed to respond.

According to the National MS Society, MS is thought to affect more than 2.3 million people worldwide. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be predicted. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the following risk factors may increase a person’s risk of developing MS:

In honor of  ME/CFS week, we are happy to highlight the newest tool in the fight to not only treat but also recognize chronic fatigue and related conditions: The Invasive Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test, also known as iCPET.

As those familiar with ME/CFS and other related conditions may be aware, “traditional” CPET is the gold standard for objectively measuring the limitations caused by chronic fatigue and the impact those limitations have on an individual’s ability to work. Dr. Christopher Snell and the incredible people at the Workwell Foundation have been administering (and improving) this test for years. Despite the plethora of peer-reviewed data confirming CPET’s objective effectiveness in measuring such limitations, insurers still do their best to disregard and minimize CPET.

In contrast to the CPET, which only requires being hooked up to “external” sensors, the iCPET involves the additional insertion of pulmonary artery and radial artery catheters before administering the test. This allows for “complete cardiopulmonary hemodynamic and peripheral tissue O2 extraction analyses, without which only the degree of impairment (maximum Vo2) and the identification of a pulmonary mechanical limitation to exercise are possible.

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