Articles Posted in LongTerm Disability (LTD) Insurance

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.

At the time of the denial, it is customary for claim representatives to tell insureds that they will have an opportunity to appeal the denial and that the appeal will be a “fresh look” at the evidence in the file.  Recently, we here at Kantor & Kantor have seen a new trend with some insurance carriers when there has been an initial denial of benefits.  Some carriers are now providing insureds with a one or two page “appeal form” to be completed by the insured for the appeal.  This is misleading and may actually prejudice the insured when completing the appeal.

As discussed in other posts on this website, the appeal to the insurance company is perhaps the most important part of a claim prior filing a lawsuit.  It is the only opportunity for an insured to ensure that all of the evidence supporting his or her claim is in the insurer’s claim file.  As such, an insured needs to include all medical records and testing documenting his or her impairments. If it is not included within the insurer’s claim file at the time of the final denial of the claim, it is very difficult, if not impossible to persuade a trial judge to consider the evidence.   Thus, the mere completion of an appeal form, without the additional documentation, may cause an insured to believe that a few sentences, “explaining” the disability, may cause an insurance company to overturn its decision.  In truth, it will not.   The insurance company will deny the claim on appeal and its claim file will be incomplete, without the evidence that should be included to prove disability.

The insured should not be misled into believing that completion of a simple form will be sufficient to overturn the decision on appeal. The insurer’s claim file should be obtained to review the evidence in support of the denial and the denial letter should be carefully scrutinized. Once this is done, an appeal should be thoroughly prepared to rebut the insurer’s evidence.

Posted by: Beth A. Davis

If you have a long term disability claim through a policy provided by your employer, ERISA most likely governs that claim. As such, if your claim is denied and you have to pursue your benefits, there are very specific rules and regulations about how – and sometimes whether – you will be able to provide evidence of your disability to the insurer.  Also, the quality of the evidence matters very much.  This blog will give you some pointers on what to gather before you hire an ERISA attorney to assist you with your appeal – and you should definitely hire an ERISA attorney to help you because the appeal is your only opportunity to provide the insurer with the necessary evidence to properly support your claim.

  • Request your claim file – if your claim has been denied, you should request a complete copy of your claim file from your insurer. This will help the attorneys to ascertain whether you have a case they can assist you with and what evidence you will need to support your claim;

Posted by:  Andrew M. Kantor

Happy 2019! In honor of the New Year, I wanted to take some time to discuss some of the newer developments in the world of Disability Insurance.

Advancements in the Fight to Acknowledge ME/CFS

In January of 2018, Judge Lawrence O’Neil issued a scathing ruling against Sun Life Financial, finding that it acted arbitrarily and capriciously when denying Ms. Vicki Young’s claim for ongoing disability benefits, and awarding said benefits to the Plaintiff, Ms.Young.

Ms. Young is a 62-year-old former mortgage broker who suffers from a severe form of fibromyalgia, and several other co-morbid conditions. After paying her LTD benefit for several years, Sun Life decided to terminate her benefit, arguing that the independent physician to whom Sun Life sent Ms. Young concluded that Ms. Young was able to return to a sedentary job, and that Ms. Young’s own physician agreed with that conclusion.

Judge O’Neil agreed with Kantor & Kantor’s argument – on Plaintiff’s Ms. Young’s behalf – that not only did Ms. Young’s treating physician support her disability claim (and was merely confused by an intentionally misleading form), Sun Life’s own independent physician actually gave restrictions and limitations which precluded Ms. Young from returning to applicable work under the terms of the policy.

Insurance is our safety net.

It’s our protection against the unthinkable. Our first line of defense when something goes wrong. Our safeguard for our health and our finances. Our security for our family and our homes. Our precaution against all the “what ifs.” Our surety in protection of our resources and access to healthcare and treatment.

On paper, health insurance sounds pretty anticipative and hopeful. It sounds like if an illness or tragedy were to strike, things would be okay in the end – because someone would be there to catch you. But the harsh reality seems to be a security net with many holes and many flaws. In the hands of insurance companies, so many people seem to be falling through the holes of the net, slipping through the worn out spaces, and some even missing the net completely as they fall.

California Department of Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has opened an investigation into allegations that health insurer, Aetna, denies insureds’ claims and requests for prior authorization for medical care without ever reviewing medical records. Although Aetna’s improper utilization review practices come as no surprise to the attorneys at our office, this revelation has sparked widespread, national media attention.

The allegations giving rise to Commissioner Jones’ investigation into Aetna’s claims handling practices come from videotaped deposition testimony of Dr. Jay Ken Iinuma who served as medical director for Aetna’s Southern California business operations between March 2012 and February 2015. During the deposition, Dr. Iinuma said he was following Aetna’s training when he never once looked at patients’ medical records himself before denying their claims for coverage.

Dr. Iinuma’s deposition was taken as part of a lawsuit filed by a college student, Gillen Washington, who was denied coverage for an infusion of intravenous immunoglobin (IVIG) when he was 19 to treat a rare auto-immune disorder.  Washington sued Aetna in Orange County Superior Court for breach of contract and bad faith, alleging that Aetna’s “reckless withholding of benefits almost killed him.”  Aetna initially paid for Washington’s treatments (each fusion can cost up to $20,000) but when Washington asked Aetna to pre-authorize a November 2014 infusion, Aetna said it was obligated to review Washington’s medical records.  Aetna claims that Washington’s treating provider failed to timely provide medical records in response to Aetna’s pre-authorization review.  Washington counters Aetna’s narrative of the events surrounding Washington’s ongoing requests and medical need for IVIG treatment.  However, it was during Dr. Iinuma’s deposition, where the real bombshell in the case was revealed. The former Aetna medical director testified that he never read Washington’s medical records and knew nothing about the disorder Washington was suffering from despite denying Washington’s pre-authorization request and signing the denial letter.  Dr. Iinuma further testified that most of his work was done online and he would rarely if ever consult with an Aetna nurse about a particular claim prior to denying it.

In a story that’s far too common, Montreal writer Samuel Archibald recently shared his story of what he called “abandonment by his insurer.” While away from work on leave to treat his depression, Archibald was unknowingly tracked on social media by his insurance company – and everyday simple information about his life was used against him to deny his health claim. Out for a run? He must not be depressed. Eating a meal with family? He must not be depressed. Or at least these are the hasty judgments that his insurer made about his mental health. Did they take into account that exercise can be a wonderful natural anti-depressant? Did they take into account that eating is necessary to survive, and spending time with family can be a healthy part of treatment and recovery? Were they even medically trained to make this type of conclusion, and if so, is it ethical to make this type of conclusion without actually treating a patient in person? The questions go on and on, and in Archibald’s outrage, he took pen to paper and brought light to a very complicated issue in the insurance world. If their job is to help people when they are sick and in need, why are they so often leaving people hanging? Why are they causing harm?

Insurance companies have a bad reputation for paying health claims, and here’s why – they have a long history of denying claims and leaving people in the dark. Leaving people confused. Leaving people in financial distress. Leaving people to suffer without the support they are entitled to.

So what’s the reasoning behind all the denials? The insurer has a bottom line – and unfortunately the bottom line is not your health and wellness. “It’s an insurance company that administers the plan, that decides on the claim, and ultimately has to foot the bill if the benefit is granted – and that’s a conflict of interest that everyone can easily see,” said Sean M. Anderson, a University of Illinois expert in employee benefit plan policy and regulation.

          Often our clients are prescribed pain medication to help control the symptoms of their disabilities.  It is well recognized that the side effects of pain medication can be disabling. An employee should not be exercising judgment, operating machinery or driving while on pain medication. See, Sabatino v. Liberty Life Assurance Co. of Boston, 286 F. Supp. 2d 1222, 1231 (N.D. Cal. 2003) (insurance company’s reliance on medical opinion “suspect” where it failed to take account of claimant’s “severe and chronic pain and the cognitive impairments” caused by her pain medication); Godfrey v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 89 F.3d 755, 759 (11th Cir. 1996) (decision to deny disability benefits arbitrary where insurer ignored side effect of drowsiness caused by claimant’s medication) and Adams v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 280 F. Supp. 2d 731,741 (N.D. Ohio 2003) (insurer’s decision to deny benefits arbitrary and capricious because the insurer ignored cognitive side effects of claimant’s medication).

          Insurers avoid the obvious disability caused by pain medications by utilizing an unfair review technique.  The insurer will employ a physician to review the medical records and the physician will report that “no adverse side effects of the medication were reported by the attending physician.”  This is a misnomer for two reasons: (1) If drowsiness or cognitive impairment is an expected side effect of the medication, it will not be reported as an “adverse” side effect and (2) the failure of one’s physician to record an expected side effect in the records does not mean that it does not exist.

          We recommend that you accurately report medication side effects to your physician.  You can also report that you do not drive while on the medication and whether you need to take a nap or rest as a result of drowsiness. You should ensure that your medical providers’ records are accurate to properly document your disability, including any and all effects of your medications.

Okay, that headline is a simplification, and maybe even an overstatement, but that’s the attitude of insurance companies, and even courts, when looking at evidence related to life, health and disability claims.

At Kantor & Kantor, one of the most common complaints we hear from prospective clients goes something like this: “When I called the insurance company, they told me to do xxxxxx. So I did xxxxxx. But then they sent me a letter denying my claim/cancelling my coverage because I didn’t do yyyyyy, as the policy required.”

Unfortunately, no matter how much we want to believe the prospective client, our answer is almost always the same: you have to understand, and act as though someone will one day soon say to you,  “if you can’t prove it, it never happened.”

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