Authorization Forms: What Information Are You Releasing to Your Disability Insurer?

Whenever you file a claim for benefits with a disability insurance company, you will be asked to complete numerous forms.  One of these forms is always a HIPAA-compliant Authorization. This form is titled differently depending on the insurer in question, for instance:

  • Authorization to Obtain Information (Guardian/Berkshire)
  • Authorization for Release and Disclosure of Health Related Information (Sun Life)
  • Authorization (MetLife, Unum, Northwestern Mutual)
  • Authorization for Release of Personal Health and Other Information (Principal)
  • Authorization for Release of Personal Health-Related Information (MassMutual)

Claimants often sign the Authorization with little more than a quick glance, unaware of the broad power they are giving their insurer to investigate nearly every aspect of their lives. This may seem like an exaggeration, but take a look at this paragraph from an actual Authorization form required by one of the leading disability insurers for doctors and dentists.

Authorization large

Many claimants think that the Authorization simply allows the insurer to collect medical records.  However, this Authorization, like those we typically see from other disability insurers, lets the company request all kinds of documents from all kinds of people and agencies.  It also allows various company representatives to speak directly with numerous people in a claimant’s life.  Let’s examine what you would authorize by agreeing to this one paragraph:

Who can the insurance company ask for information about you? The express language of this Authorization allows the insurer to talk to and submit record requests to essentially everyone in your life.  In case the company wants to speak with a person not listed, it also includes a blanket category to cover anyone with any knowledge about you.  The Authorization covers:

  • Any physicians you have ever treated with
  • Any hospitals you have ever visited
  • Any mental health practitioner you have ever visited
  • Your pharmacy/pharmacies
  • Your benefit plan administrator(s) (e.g., your H.R. Department or your health insurance company)
  • Your business associates
  • Any consumer reporting agent with information about you
  • Your insurance agent(s)
  • Your employer(s)
  • Your financial institution(s) and/or bank(s)
  • The Social Security Administration
  • The Veteran’s Administration
  • any other person having any knowledge of me or my health” (e.g., spouses, ex-spouses, employees, ex-employees, neighbors, co-workers, ex-coworkers, schools, etc.)

What information can the company request?  The Authorization allows the disability insurer to request virtually any information not otherwise barred by law–not just medical records.  Again, the company includes a blanket category for any information the person or entity knows about you.  The information can include:

  • Medical information
  • Medical consultations
  • Medical test results
  • Prescription history (including what you were prescribed, who prescribed it, when you filled the prescription, and whether/when you obtained refills from the pharmacy)
  • Mental health records, including psychiatric treatment notes
  • HIV/AIDS treatment information
  • Records for drug or alcohol abuse treatment, including all records from in-patient rehabilitation
  • Information about your occupation
  • Your employment history
  • Your driving record
  • Your financial statements
  • Your earning history
  • any information in its [or their] possession about me”

Who can request this information?  Claimants are often surprised to learn that Authorizations do not apply solely to the claims consultant evaluating their claim.  This Authorization, like most, allows any of the above people/entities to talk with or release any of the above information to the company “or its employees and agents, or its authorized representatives.” This broad designation includes:

  • Your claims consultant
  • Your claims consultants manager(s)
  • The insurance company’s in-house doctors
  • The insurance company’s in-house financial analysts
  • The company’s vocational analysts
  • Outside medical consultants hired by the insurer
  • The company’s field investigators
  • A company hired by the insurer to help schedule IMEs
  • An Independent Medical Examination (IME) doctor hired by the insurer
  • A private investigator hired by the insurer

It can be unsettling to think about how much information a disability insurer can obtain about you using one piece of paper.  While insurance companies have the right to gather information that is truly relevant to your claim, oftentimes the Authorization is used for improper purposes, such as attempting to improperly influence doctors or find information to personally discredit claimants.

What can you do to make sure your Authorization isn’t used to unfairly deny or terminate a legitimate claim?  First and foremost, make sure you know what information about you exists, and do what you can to ensure it is fair and accurate.  For example, look at your medical records to make sure your condition is correctly documented, check your credit history for mistakes, and try not to burn bridges with any personal or business associates. When you are asked to sign an Authorization, take the time to review the language so that you know exactly what you’re authorizing.  These steps can help avoid unpleasant surprises when the company asks for information you thought was private.  If you have a disability insurance attorney involved, he or she can help manage any requests for information, and may be able to limit the scope of the Authorization in some instances.