Unum is Making Some Changes, But Are They Good For Your Plan?

In previous posts, we have discussed how courts and juries have reprimanded Unum and its various subsidiaries for wrongfully denying disability claims.  Now, Unum is once again making the headlines—this time for making significant changes to its leadership at the highest levels of the company.

What’s changing?

Essentially, Unum is undertaking a widespread overhaul of its upper management.  Marco Forato is now the senior vice president for global growth strategy, Steve Mitchell is the new chief financial officer, and Steve Zabel is the new president of the U.S. closed block operations.  Additionally, Vicki Gordan has been promoted to senior vice president and chief internal auditor, and Matt Royal is now the chief risk officer for Unum.

While any change of leadership can have substantial ramifications, those insured by Unum should take particular note that Unum has appointed a new “president of the U.S. closed block operations.”  “Closed block” refers to Unum’s discontinued product lines, which, according to Unum’s 2014 Annual Report, include long-term care and older individual disability policies.  If you are a physician or dentist with a Unum policy, your policy is probably part of Unum’s “closed block” operations.

Unum’s new president of “closed block” operations will likely face a challenging task because any losses suffered from paying out Unum’s old disability policies cannot be offset by new business.  Additionally, such “closed block” operations are a relatively new phenomenon in the insurance industry, so there is a very small reserve of historical data for Unum to draw upon.

What does this mean?

Generally speaking, a company does not make such extensive changes without expecting results.  Consequently, it is likely that several, if not all, of Unum’s newly appointed leaders will be under substantial pressure to perform.  Because fresh leaders often want to leave their own mark on their industry, insureds should pay close attention to any new changes in policy announced by Unum during this transitional period.

More specifically, insureds with older individual disability policies with Unum should be aware that Unum will likely be looking for new, creative ways to deny their claims.  If you have such a policy and you feel that Unum has arbitrarily changed your policy’s terms and/or wrongfully denied your disability claim, you should consult with an experienced disability insurance attorney to ensure that Unum’s leadership is not improperly exceeding the scope of their newly acquired authority.


Posture and Your Practice

Good posture is important for everyone, but especially for dentists, who spend a fair amount of time in static positions, making repetitive movements, or bending or twisting in ways that aren’t necessarily natural for human bodies. Today, we’re going to give you some tips on how to improve your posture and positioning in your everyday life as well as your practice, so that you may potentially avoid or delay future disabling pain.

General Posture

  • Keep your body in alignment.
    • While standing, this means distributing your weight evenly on both feet, and making sure that you keep your weight from shifting either forward on the balls of your feet or backward on your heels.
    • When seated, sit up straight and keep your ears, shoulders, and hips in a straight line. A good trick is to picture a balloon attached to the top of your head, pulling you upward.
  • Move around a bit.
    • When your muscles get tired, it’s much easier to slouch or fall into a position that might be comfortable now, but could strain parts of your body you don’t want strained. It’s important to walk around after every half-hour or so of sitting to stretch and refresh your body.
    • Also, moving around slightly while seated is a good way to refresh your muscles. Instead of making your back tight by forcing a constantly straight position, bend a little bit every now and then to reset your posture, and give yourself a break.
  • When working at a desk, use a chair that has good lumbar support or use a small pillow placed between your back and the chair.
    • The spine naturally curves in an “S” shape, so it is important to support your lower back. Ergonomically designed chairs can do this. Using a small pillow for your lower back can also help support your spine.
    • It is also important to sit back in your chair and not on the edge of the seat. A chair is able to provide a solid foundation for your seat only if you use all of the area.
  • Make sure your desk chair is properly aligned to your workspace.
    • Keep your feet flat on the floor and have your hips slightly higher than your knees when sitting at a desk. This will keep you from adding strain to your hip flexor muscles, which play a role in lower back stability.

In the Dental Chair

  • Keep your patient at waist level.
    • This enables you to maintain your proper posture and work safely within your patient’s mouth. It also helps keep your wrists straight, and elbows at 90 degrees, which puts less strain on your arms, shoulders and back.
    • To test it out, hold a 5–pound weight away from your body at waist–height and slowly move it in until your elbows are at 90 degrees. Notice how the weight is much more comfortable to hold when it is closer to your body.
  • Have your tools easily available.
    • Keep everything you may need within a short reach and in front of you so you don’t do any unnecessary twisting, bending or turning.
  • Have better designed tools.
    • You can get lighter tools and angled hand-pieces that allow you to better reach difficult places in your patient’s mouth. It would also be helpful to replace old hoses with ones that are designed to be lighter and straight, so you don’t have to fight the tension of a coil.
    • Gloves are also important: using ambidextrous gloves forces your thumb into an unnatural position and constrains your fingers into one plane, which isn’t anatomically correct. Look into purchasing gloves specifically for your left and right hands to avoid this strain.

While all of these tips can be helpful in preventing future pain, none of them are a cure-all for potential disabilities, and they may not “fix” pain that has already begun. It is essential to have a dialogue with your doctor about any issues that you may be having. It may also be useful to talk to a disability insurance lawyer if you think that your current or future pain may not allow you to continue practicing. We hope that these tips were helpful; let us know in the comments what worked for you!


Three Firm Members Named to Arizona’s Finest Lawyers

(Pictured left to right: Patrick Stanley, Edward Comitz, Mike Beethe)AFL

Three firm members, Edward Comitz, Patrick Stanley, and Mike Beethe, were selected by their peers as Members of Arizona’s Finest Lawyers. Mr. Comitz and Mr. Stanley practice in the areas of healthcare, disability insurance and commercial litigation, although Mr. Stanley adds estate planning to his skills. Mr. Beethe focuses on business transactions and real estate litigation. The AFL has a limited membership of individuals who have attained positions of honor and trust in the legal community through their noteworthy achievements.


All About Disability Insurance with Dentaltown’s Howard Farran DDS, MBA

Edward Comitz is talking about disability insurance with Howard Farran, the founder and publisher of Dentaltown Magazine. Ed will be discussing why and when to buy disability insurance and what to avoid or look for when you do.


Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and You: The Issue, and 10 Things You Can Do to Prevent It

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome consists of pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in the fingers or hand caused by pressure on the median nerve in your wrist. The median nerve controls the feeling and movement in the thumb and all of the fingers except the pinky. For a dentist, this syndrome can be quite debilitating, as this profession requires the full use of both hands in order to examine and perform surgery on patients. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the symptoms and causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, as well as 10 steps you can take to prevent it from happening.

Symptoms and Causes

While there are multiple symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, there are a few that are rather noteworthy:

  • Sleep interruption from numb hands and tingling fingers: you may think that the numbness and tingling is simply due to sleeping on your hand in an awkward position, but there may be more to it than that.
  • Loss of fine motor skills/weakness in hands.
  • Pain radiating up the arm: it may just radiate up the forearm, or it could potentially also make your shoulder and neck ache.
  • Hand pain or wrist pain: this is perhaps the most straightforward symptom of the syndrome.

There seems to be no one cause of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but there are several risk factors, including:

  • Anatomic factors: wrist fractures or dislocations can lead to extra pressure on the median nerve.
  • Sex: the syndrome is more common in women.
  • Inflammatory conditions: illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Workplace: working with vibrating tools, holding static positions for a long time, repetitive motions with the wrist. These workplace factors put dentists at a higher risk for contracting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome than the general population.

Continue reading Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and You: The Issue, and 10 Things You Can Do to Prevent It


Do You Need Disability Insurance for More than Just Yourself?

We spend a lot of time talking about disability insurance claims and mostly focus on the big one: personal disability insurance. However, there are three other types of insurance that you may not have been aware of, and could be potentially helpful to you and your practice. Today, we’ll be taking a look at key-person disability insurance, buyout disability insurance, disability insurance for overhead, and, of course, personal disability insurance. We will also discuss whether or not you potentially would need any of these forms of insurance.

Personal Disability Insurance

Essentially, disability insurance is insurance that you buy for yourself in the event that you become disabled while working. If you work in a profession where disability is a possibility, it is important to have personal disability insurance for the sake of your future. For instance, dentists are at higher risk for disability due to repetitive movements and static positions, so it is crucial for them to have a disability policy.

Further, we recommend that you purchase an individual disability insurance policy for yourself, and not through an employer-sponsored program. This makes sure that the policy is not covered by ERISA in the event that you do have to file a claim.

Key-Person Disability Insurance

Key-person disability insurance is a type of coverage for those that own their own business or practice. This form of insurance covers an employee that is “key” to your business: someone who would be impossible to replace due to their skill, customer base, knowledge or burden of responsibility. If this person was to become disabled, and you had key-person disability insurance, the business would receive disability income checks. These checks could be used to cover the financial loss of the missing employee, or it could pay for a temporary worker while the insured person recovers from the disability.

There are several things to consider when determining if you should buy key-person disability insurance. These include the contingencies for the company if a key employee is disabled, the time to find and train a suitable replacement, the amount of revenue directly attributable to the key person, whether or not the key person’s disability will result in the loss of clients, and whether your company is willing to self-insure.

Unlike personal disability insurance policies, key-person policies are limited in their features and options. Often, they are custom designed for the company so that they meet specific needs, and are also often very short term, lasting between 12–24 months. This is because it is usually assumed that you could find and train a replacement in that time span.

Continue reading Do You Need Disability Insurance for More than Just Yourself?


Presenteeism & Sick Doctors: Does This Lead to More Sick People?

We’ve discussed the issues involved with “presenteeism” and how it can affect disability insurance claims, but it’s making waves in other news regarding healthcare workers and their patients. Healthcare workers are going to work sick, and while it is admirable to be dedicated to your job, it creates a huge risk to those with already compromised immune systems. Since healthcare workers are entrusted with the duty of caring for high risk patients, it’s important that we take care of our healthcare workers as well. However, that seems to not be the case, as in the medical field it is seen as weak to take days off, and sometimes taking more than two sick days is rewarded with an extra week of work for residents.

Here are some statistics that highlight this phenomenon:

95.3% of 504 physicians believed that working while sick put patients at risk. 1)http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2344551

83.1% of the 504, however, worked sick at least 1 time in the past year.

98.7% didn’t want to let colleagues down, and 64% feared being shunned by colleagues.

80% of a random sampling of 1,033 Norwegian physicians reported working even though they had symptoms that in a patient would be considered “sickness”. 2)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11355720/

However, it’s imperative that we don’t blame healthcare workers, but instead society and its approach to doctors’ and dentists’ sickness as a whole. It doesn’t seem to make sense that we place such a heavy emphasis on coming to work no matter what when lives are at stake. While it would seem to be common knowledge that placing an already compromised immune system in jeopardy would be a bad idea, the medical community’s desire to work through diseases is contradictory to this, and perhaps it’s time to change the culture.

Physicians, what do you think about “presenteeism”, and how do you think we can change the culture surrounding it? Tell us in the comments.


References   [ + ]

1. http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2344551
2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11355720/

Protecting the Protectors: Depression, Medical Professionals, and the Conflicts Involved with Under-reporting


Today we’re taking a closer look at how depression can affect doctors and dentists, their practices, and the way they file for disability insurance. We examine how the medical community’s approach toward mental health is perhaps preventing some doctors from reporting illness, and how this changes a doctor’s ability to obtain adequate treatment and secure disability insurance benefits.

Depression and anxiety are undeniably prevalent among physicians and dentists.  For instance, a study in Australia showed that the rates of depression in doctors is four times higher than the general population and in a British study, 60% of dentists surveyed reported being anxious, tense, or depressed.

Simply looking at the daily life of doctors, and comparing that to the risk factors for depression shows some striking connections between the two. Some of the risk factors associated with depression (as outlined by the Mayo Clinic) include being overly self-critical, having serious or chronic illness and dealing with traumatic or stressful events. Interestingly, these are many things that doctors and dentists struggle with; indeed, probably more often than the average person. Doctors and dentists have to be self-critical because if they aren’t, lives could be at stake. In addition, doctors and dentists often suffer from chronic illness and pain due to the physically and emotionally taxing nature of their work. Worrying about patients, running a practice, and working long hours are all part of the job description for the average doctor.

While physicians and dentists commonly have symptoms of depression, they often don’t report their issues due to the stigma of mental health issues within the medical community. Lay people look to doctors and dentists as the paragon of health, and physicians take the same approach: while their patients are characterized by their illness, physicians are supposed to be the ones who cure them. While the general populace’s approach to mental illness has improved greatly over time (we no longer lock people in tiny jail cells simply because they are mentally ill), the negative stigma attached to depression and anxiety in the medical and dental community is still present. In the Australian study noted above, half of the respondents reported thinking that they were less likely to be appointed to a new position if they had a history of mental illness, and 40% admitted thinking less of doctors that have a history of depression or anxiety.

Nevertheless, it is important for doctors to recognize whether they exhibit signs of mental illness. Aside from needing to be mindful of their own health and well-being, doctors are responsible for the health and well-being of their patients, too.  Physicians and dentists both are in the unique position that a mistake that they make at work could endanger a life. Attempting to work through depression and anxiety symptoms that impair the doctor’s ability to provide responsible patient care could lead to a malpractice suit. Perhaps the solution to this issue is a re-evaluation of the medical community’s approach to mental illness. While that seems like a large task to take on, it starts with each individual doctor either seeking treatment for mental health, or supporting those that do.

For physicians, states have programs in place called Physician Health Programs (PHPs) that are supposed to support the health, including mental health, of medical licensees. A PHP is advertised as a way to get the help one needs, while avoiding disciplinary action such as a loss of license. Physicians should be aware, however, that PHPs are often connected to the licensing boards, and non-compliance with the PHP can lead to disciplinary action. For example, in Arizona, while the PHP is operated by an independent agency, it does have a formal contractual relationship with the state licensing board.

Continue reading Protecting the Protectors: Depression, Medical Professionals, and the Conflicts Involved with Under-reporting


Arthritis and Its Many Forms: How It Affects Dental Professionals

The number one cause of disability in America is arthritis, which afflicts over 50 million people. With a U.S. population of 320 million this means that 1 person in every 6 has arthritis. These large numbers could be due to the fact that there are over 100 different types of arthritis ranging from lupus to gout. In this post, we will look to focus on the three most prevalent types of arthritis: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. We will also discuss how they can affect your practice as a dentist, and how to approach a disability insurance claim for arthritis.

The Basics: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the arthritis that arises simply from the overuse of joints, and for this reason it is known as “wear and tear” arthritis. Symptoms include pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints after either overuse or long periods of inactivity. It is most commonly developed as people naturally age and their bodies reflect that age, but can also be found in professions with repetitive movements, such as dentistry.

Since OA is due to aging or the effects of repetitive motion, OA is often progressive. It is the most common form of arthritis, and treatment can range from added exercise and weight loss (where the main cause of the OA is obesity), to taking various pain relievers, and even surgery.

1)See Osteoarthritis of the Hand in http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/osteoarthritis-of-the-hand h9991469_001

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease, and is three times more common in women than it is in men. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks joints, which leads to inflammation that causes further damage. While the symptoms are similar to OA in that there is joint pain and swelling, rheumatoid arthritis also can bring about fevers, fatigue, and weight loss. The joint pain you may be experiencing is often symmetrical, meaning both sides of the body are affected, in RA.

Unfortunately, the causes of RA aren’t fully understood. Symptoms can start and stop, occasionally going into remission, but RA is usually progressive. Risk factors for RA include family history of the disease, smoking, periodontal disease, and microbes in the bowels. There is no cure for RA, and it is treated somewhat similarly to OA in that pain medication, increased exercise, and surgery can be used to try to alleviate symptoms.

2)See Rheumatoid Arthritis in http://www.ezhealthmd.com/medical-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/rheumatoid-arthritis-hand Continue reading Arthritis and Its Many Forms: How It Affects Dental Professionals


References   [ + ]

1. See Osteoarthritis of the Hand in http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/osteoarthritis-of-the-hand
2. See Rheumatoid Arthritis in http://www.ezhealthmd.com/medical-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/