Articles Tagged with insurance denials

One of the most crucial pieces of evidence in supporting a long term disability claim is the opinion of the claimant’s treating physician that he or she is disabled.

Many physicians are more than happy to assist their patients with forms required by the LTD provider and in some cases, narrative accounts of their patient’s disabling condition.

Sometimes, though, even with the support of your physician, problems can still arise. Often, this is because of the office visit notes your physician makes with each of your visits. Phrases such as, “doing well,” “symptoms improved,” “responding well to medication,” while meant as shorthand by the doctor that her treatment plan is working, are often used by the insurance company to conclude that you are no longer disabled.

One of the most crucial pieces of evidence in supporting a long term disability (LTD) claim is the opinion of the claimant’s treating physician that he or she is disabled.

Many physicians are more than happy to assist their patients with forms required by the LTD provider and in some cases, narrative accounts of their patient’s disabling condition. Sometimes, though, the doctor is unable or unwilling to assist. There are a variety of reasons for this: lack of time, lack of compensation, misunderstanding of the level of involvement required by the doctor, employer/hospital rules preventing them, and in some cases, a disbelief that their patient is actually disabled.

If you have a disabling condition and you are making an LTD claim, or you are receiving benefits, your doctor’s participation in the process is essential. Without a doctor’s support, in most cases, your claim is finished. If your doctor has notified you that he or she will not be able to assist you with your claim, it is important to ask him or her to tell you the reason for their decision. If it is anything other than lack of belief that you are disabled, often, further information can change their minds. The offer of additional compensation for their time is a big help. Explaining that they will not have to do anything more than the forms or a letter – that they will not have to testify in court – goes a long way in changing minds.

Health insurance plans provide coverage only for health-related serves that they define or determine to be “medically necessary.” Medical necessity refers to a decision by your health plan that your treatment, test, or procedure is necessary for your health or to treat a diagnosed medical problem.

Most health plans will not pay for healthcare services that they deem to be not medically necessary. The most common example is a cosmetic procedure, such as the injection of medications to decrease facial wrinkles or tummy-tuck surgery. Many health insurance companies also will not cover procedures that they determine to be experimental or not proven to work.

Hereditary Leiomyomatosis and Renal Cell Cancer (“HLRCC”) is a very rare genetic condition that was named in 2002. It is also known as Reed’s Syndrome. HLRCC is a disorder in which affected individuals tend to develop benign tumors containing smooth muscle tissue (leiomyomas) in the skin and, in females, the uterus. This condition also increases the risk of kidney cancer. Surveillance and monitoring for HLRCC is recommended starting at around age 5-8 years.

If a claim for ERISA disability benefits is denied or terminated, the claimant’s next recourse is to submit an administrative appeal to the insurance company. An ERISA long-term disability claim cannot be taken to court until the administrative appeals process is first exhausted. If the appeal is denied and the case proceeds to litigation, ERISA constrains the scope of evidence that is heard at trial and also limits the available remedies. (For this reason, ERISA is favorable to the insurance companies since it does not contain strong disincentives for denying meritorious claims).

It is important to understand that, with rare exceptions, the evidence submitted on appeal is the only evidence that will be considered in litigation—in other words, once the insurance company makes a final decision on an appeal, the file for litigation becomes closed. New supporting evidence does not get added during litigation and no witnesses are called to the stand to testify. The judge makes a determination based on the legal briefs submitted by the attorneys on both sides and a hearing at which the attorneys present arguments and answer any questions the judge may have. This makes ERISA litigation is a very particular type of litigation  governed by certain rules and limitations which make the process quite different from many other types of litigation such as personal injury.

For this reason, thoughtful preparation and submission of all relevant evidence for the administrative appeal is absolutely imperative. Appealing the denial of a disability claim is not just a matter of refuting the insurance companies’ reasoning for the decision or pointing out overlooked facts. Rather, it is the one opportunity to assemble the strongest possible body of evidence that can be presented in court if the appeal is denied.

When you start a new job that provides disability insurance, or accidental death and dismemberment insurance, most policies include language that states you will not have coverage for claims you make in the first 12 months if the claim is for an injury or illness that is a “pre-existing condition.” But what is a pre-existing condition, and how will insurance companies determine if you have one?

A pre-existing condition is generally defined as any medical condition for which you received treatment, care, advice, or a prescription from a medical professional in the 90 days before you started your new job. The precise language will differ from policy to policy, but that is the general idea. For some medical conditions, the application will be obvious. If you were in treatment for breast cancer in the three months before you started your new job, started a new job believing you were in remission, and then 8 months later found out that your cancer had returned, that would be a pre-existing condition and you would not have coverage. If you were in a car accident before you started a new job and treated with a chiropractor or in physical therapy for injuries, and eventually could not work because of those injuries and so went on leave within the first year of work, that would be a pre-existing condition. It’s also reasonably clear that if you treated with a doctor for a broken leg, or with a psychiatrist for anxiety before starting your new job and six months later you were hit by a car and went out on disability for internal injuries, your prior medical care would not be a pre-existing condition that would bar coverage for the accident.

There are other situations that are not so clear cut. If you were treating for back problems due to a slipped disc prior to starting work, and then were in a car accident six months into your new job and further injured your back, will coverage for that injury be barred by the pre-existing condition limitation? Your insurance company will almost surely argue that there is no coverage because the injury was a pre-existing condition. What if you had diabetes, and after a car accident lost a leg, in part because of complications related to your diabetes? Or what if you had been fully released to work after a prior injury and were not treating for it, but were titrating down on your pain medication during the 90-day period before you started work, and then your injury flared and you needed to go on disability?

Unum is one of the biggest disability and life insurers in the United States, owning subsidiaries including Provident Life and Accident Insurance Company and The Paul Revere Life Insurance Company. Unum generates billions of dollars in revenue and has boasted high rates of growth over the past few decades. Unum has also built a bad reputation for unfair handling of disability benefits claims over the years. Their aggressive and unfair tactics to avoid paying benefits to insured individuals resulted in numerous lawsuits and class actions for insurance bad faith practices, with trial losses totaling well over $100 million.

On top of individual lawsuits and class actions, in the early 2000’s, insurance regulators undertook a multistate market conduct examination to investigate reports of wrongful practices related to delaying and denying legitimate disability insurance claims.  As a result, Unum entered into a multi-state settlement agreement in 2004 in which Unum agreed to review denied claims, implement new claims handling procedures, and pay a $15 million civil penalty. On top of the multi-state settlement agreement, California regulators undertook their own investigation and Unum’s California settlement agreement entailed an additional $8 million penalty as well as changes to policy provisions and claims handling procedures.

Some of the most striking problems with Unum’s handling of disability claims that insurance regulators identified included the following:

Our firm is involved in litigating a proton beam cancer treatment denial case in Georgia, Ghattas v. Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Care Plan of Georgia, Inc., Case No. 1:20-CV-03157-ELR, 2020 WL 6867155 (N.D. Ga. Nov. 18, 2020). Defendants Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Care Plan of Georgia (BCBSGA) answered Plaintiff Christopher Ghattas’ Complaint alleging the wrongful denial of his life-saving proton beam radiation therapy at Emory University Proton Therapy Center for a diagnosis of brain cancer. Following Defendant’s answering of the Complaint, counsel began preparing to conduct a Rule 26(f) Conference per the Court’s Order. Prior to the setting of this conference call, counsel for BCBSGA articulated to Plaintiff’s counsel two positions: (1) that ERISA matters were exempt from the initial disclosures requirements of FRCP Rule 26 and (2) that Plaintiff—although never having received a page of the administrative record in this case nor counsel ever discussing the standard of review to be applied to this benefits denial—was not entitled to any discovery in an ERISA matter. The Court resolved these two issues as addressed in the parties’ Joint Preliminary Report to the Court.

First, the Court agreed with Plaintiff’s position that Defendant would be required to produce initial disclosures in this matter pursuant to Rule 26. Citing Golden v. Sun Life Fin., Inc., 2:08-CV-070-WKW, 2008 WL 2782736 (M.D. Ala. July 15, 2008), the Court held that “[b]ecause this [ERISA] case involves more than just the administrative  record and because the parties will be engaging in discovery, [defendant is] required to provide initial disclosures in accordance with Rule 26(a).”

Second, Plaintiff had taken the position that he was not foreclosed on any grounds from conducting targeted and limited discovery depending upon the standard of review that would apply to BCBSGA’s benefits denial. Without having produced a single page of the administrative record, BCBSGA took the position that Plaintiff was entitled to no discovery in an ERISA matter. Here, the Court agreed with Plaintiff. Citing Adams v. Hartford Life and Acc. Ins. Co., 589 F. Supp. 2d 1366 (N.D. Ga. 2008), the Court stated that it did “not agree that discovery is inappropriate here.” “In matters such as the one at hand, ‘the body of case law developed under ERISA’ requires ‘the [C]ourt, at the very least, [to] examine the facts as known to the administrator at the time the decision to deny benefits was made to determine whether the administrator’s decision was reasonable.’” Adams, 589 F. Supp. 2d at 1367. The Court held that Plaintiff was entitled to narrowly tailored discovery regarding what evidence the Plan (who claimed it was vested with discretionary authority) was aware of at the time of its decision to deny Plaintiff’s claim for proton therapy.

The short answer: Yes, depending on how much time has passed since you first submitted your claim.

Consider the following scenario. You work for a company that has an insured long-term disability (“LTD”) plan that is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). Let us say the insurance company is Prudential Insurance Company of America. You go out on disability due to chronic pain and file a claim with Prudential on July 25, 2019. On August 19, 2019, Prudential acknowledges that it received your medical records, activities of daily living questionnaire, and work capacity questionnaire. But inexplicitly, it says it needs more time to decide your claim and takes a 30-day extension. In the meantime, Prudential reaches out to your doctor to request feedback on its medical evaluation conducted by one of its nurse reviewers. Prudential also seeks clarification from you regarding your medical history. On November 13, 2019, Prudential confirms that the file is complete, but it states it needs more time to decide your claim. It does not explain why it needs more time. Finally, on November 27, 2019, Prudential decides against you. Can you file a lawsuit?

According to Judge Jeffrey White in the Northern District of California, the answer is yes. See Hasten v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., No. 19-CV-07943-JSW, 2020 WL 3786229 (N.D. Cal. July 6, 2020).

In early March of this year Class Notices were sent to individuals who were covered under a Blue Shield of California non-ERISA health plan during the period of September 2, 2007 through December 31, 2015, and were denied authorization or reimbursement for residential treatment of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa on the grounds that their plans did not provide coverage for residential treatment.

If you are a member of this class you may submit or resubmit to Blue Shield any claims you may have for reimbursement for residential treatment that you received while a Blue Shield member between September 2, 2007 and December 31, 2015 for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa if Blue Shield denied authorization or reimbursement on the grounds that your plan did not provide coverage for residential treatment. Blue Shield may not rely on any residential treatment exclusion to refuse to reimburse any new or resubmitted claim by a Class member for medically necessary residential treatment of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

If you would like to submit a new claim or resubmit a previously denied claim, you must submit the Claim Form by September 1, 2020 to the following address:

Contact Information