Articles Tagged with ERISA appeals

Kantor & Kantor has established a regular, live, and interactive Zoom conversation to discuss generally and answer questions from the public about long-term disability, health insurance, pensions, life insurance, casualty (homeowners), and more.  BenefitsChat will be live on Wednesday evenings from 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm Pacific Time.

Host Andrew Kantor, his fellow Kantor & Kantor attorneys, and select guests will explain and discuss everything from “big picture” concepts, such as the distinctions between different ways of obtaining insurance, to case-specific concepts designed to help individuals protect their rights.

While there is always a demand for legal information, current events have created an unparalleled need for as many real, live, helping hands as are available to be lent—even if the hand can only be safely lent via webcam. This forum will give people the chance not only to learn from our attorneys and each other; but to do so within the safety and comfort of a like-minded and supportive group of individuals and their families.

On April 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) issued deadline relief and other guidance under Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) to help, among other groups, disability plan participants who are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, also referred to as the coronavirus outbreak.

The Department of Labor, Department of the Treasury, and the Internal Revenue Service issued a joint notice explaining the extension of time frames for healthcare coverage, portability, and continuation of group health plan coverage under COBRA, and time frames to file a benefit claim or appeal of denied claims.  They also issued COVID-19 FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries that address a number of common questions concerning health and retirement benefits.

The final rule published by EBSA and submitted to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) for publication contains information of the extension of certain timeframes under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code for group health plans, disability and other welfare plans, pension plans, and participants and beneficiaries of these plans during the COVID-19 National Emergency.

Over the past 15 years, I have represented hundreds of claimants in their claims for disability benefits governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, also known as ERISA.  If an ERISA disability claim is denied, a claimant must appeal that denial to the plan administrator or insurance company before he or she is able to file a lawsuit.  The appeals process is referred to as exhausting administrative remedies (though there is no administrative agency involved). The ERISA Regulations provide rules that an administrator must follow in order to give a claimant a “full and fair review.”  See ERISA § 503; 29 CFR § 2560.503-1 (Claims procedure).

Effective April 1, 2018, the ERISA Regulations were changed to require that an insurance company or administrator provide to the claimant copies of new evidence it obtains after a claimant submits an appeal so that the claimant has an opportunity to respond to the new evidence before the insurance company issues a final claim decision.  Some insurance companies, however, refuse to provide this evidence to claimants who filed their disability claims before April 1, 2018.

What if you fall into this pre-April 1, 2018 category?  Do you have any rights to know what the insurance company is relying on before it issues a final decision on your appeal?

Kantor & Kantor, LLP, one of the most experienced law firms in the nation dealing with litigating insurance claims against insurance companies, is proud that once again five Partners have been selected to the 2020 Southern California Super Lawyers list.  Co-Founders Lisa Kantor and Glenn Kantor are joined by Senior Partners Alan Kassan and Corinne Chandler, and Partner Brent Dorian Brehm makes his fourth consecutive appearance.

No more than five percent of the lawyers in Southern California are selected by Super Lawyers. Super Lawyers, part of Thomson Reuters, is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The annual selections are made using a patented multiphase process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates and peer reviews by practice area. The result is a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of exceptional attorneys.

The Super Lawyers lists are published nationwide in Super Lawyers Magazines and in leading city and regional magazines and newspapers across the country. Super Lawyers Magazines also feature editorial profiles of attorneys who embody excellence in their practice of law. For more information about Super Lawyers, go to SuperLawyers.com.

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.

As we continue to learn about efforts to challenge proton therapy denials by groups such as the Proton Therapy Law Coalition, the fundamental question becomes: Will the insurers actually get the message and change their ways? A recent article suggests that even when a jury awards a large punitive damages figure against a health insurer, the carrier is likely not truly getting the message.

In November 2018, an Oklahoma jury returned a $25.5 million verdict against Aetna for improperly denying coverage for proton beam therapy, a treatment the company considered experimental. In the largest verdict for bad faith in U.S. history, the jury found that Aetna “recklessly disregarded its duty to deal fairly and act in good faith” and awarded punitive damages. During the course of deliberations, the jury specifically discussed “sending a message” to Aetna and “making a statement” so Aetna would reevaluate how it handles appeals and requests for coverage.

However, many large insurance companies, if state allows them to, carry their own liability insurance for just this occasion. It appears that about 20 states do not allow insurers to carry such liability coverage. But insurers are now turning to products sold by offshore insurers beyond the reach of state regulators. In other words, a lot of insurers are not directly paying for the punitive damages awarded against them. This undermines the importance and impact of large jury verdicts on effectuating changed insurer practices.

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.

Elizabeth Hopkins and Michelle Roberts, Kantor & Kantor Partners, recently obtained a favorable decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, concluding that a widow could hold her deceased husband’s employer accountable for its actions in preventing her from obtaining the life insurance under her husband’s ERISA-covered benefit plan.

Specifically, although the employer, National Counseling Group (NCG), collected premiums for the life insurance coverage from the husband until the time of his death, it never told him that when he began to work part-time, he became ineligible under the plan but could convert his coverage to an individual policy.  After he died, NCG told his widow not to pursue her claim against the insurance company because it was going to pay her the full benefits, even though it later refused to do so.  Despite these misdeeds, the trial judge dismissed the case after concluding that NCG owed no fiduciary duty to either the decedent or his widow.

Kantor & Kantor attorneys, who are ERISA litigation specialists, took over the case for the appeal.  They argued that the trial judge’s ruling was wrong because NCG was named as a fiduciary and plan administrator in the governing documents and, as such, NCG was required to give accurate and complete information to both the decedent and to his widow.

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.

When you become ill with what may turn out to be a disabling condition, you are not likely thinking about whether the things you say to your physician might impact a short or long term disability claim, but you should be. Unfortunately, insurance companies use comments by claimants and their physicians found in the claimant’s medical records to discredit their claims. They can also be used to apply provisions in the policy that limit the duration of benefits. In some cases, depending on the medical facility where you treat, even your email and telephonic communications are recorded and placed in your medical records. These can be extremely detrimental to your disability claim.

Here are some examples from real claims: A man went to his physician and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. His symptoms were already pretty advanced and his doctor determined he should stop working. We helped him make a claim for disability benefits. One of the symptoms of PD is depression. Our client had mentioned to his neurologist on many occasions that he was suddenly feeling very depressed. Even though his physician attributed his depression to his PD and even though he had never before had depression, his LTD carrier tried to apply the policy’s mental/nervous limitation which would have limited his benefits to only 24 months, claiming he was disabled by depression, not PD.

In another case, a client who was already receiving long term disability benefits whose claim had been terminated came to our firm for assistance. We told him he would need assistance from his physician for his appeal of the denial. We explained the points the doctor’s letter would need to address and the client listed those points in an email to his physician. Because the client treats at Kaiser Permanente, that email was included in his medical records. When his insurer requested copied of his medical records, his insurer was able to obtain communications between the client and his attorney all because he sent an email to his doctor asking for help.

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