Disability insurance companies are constantly searching for new ways to expand the power and control they have over their policyholders through the use of restrictive policy provisions. In previous posts we’ve discussed how disability insurers are expanding their control over their policyholders’ medical treatment by implementing more stringent care provisions. However, care provisions are not the only avenue for disability insurers to exert a greater degree of influence in the claims process. Over the years, insurers have also expanded the scope of their authority under examination provisions.
The most basic examination provisions simply notify the policyholder that he or she may be examined by the insurer’s doctor or interviewed by a representative of the insurer, like this policy from Northwestern Mutual:
- Medical Examination. The Company may have the Insured examined by a health care practitioner.
- Personal Interview. The Company may conduct a personal interview of the Insured.
- Financial Examination. The Company may have the financial records of the Insured or the Owner examined.
Taken alone, this does not seem to onerous. However, you need to watch out for additional requirements buried at the end of the provision:
Any examination or interview will be performed:
- At the Company’s expense;
- By a health care practitioner, interviewer or financial examiner of the Company’s choice; and
- As often as is reasonably necessary in connection with a claim.
The final sentence of this provision leaves the open the possibility of multiple interviews throughout the claim, and may be overlooked by a claimant who does not carefully review his or her policy.
Other provisions, like this medical examination provision from a Standard Insurance Company individual disability insurance policy, expressly condition the payment of benefits on your cooperation with the exam:
MEDICAL EXAM – We can have Physicians or vocational specialists examine You, at Our expense, as often as reasonably necessary while You claim to be Disabled. Any such examination will be conducted by one or more Physicians or vocational specialists We choose. We may defer or suspend payment of benefits if you fail to attend an examination or fail to cooperate with the person conducting the examination. Benefits may be resumed, provided that the required examination occurs within a reasonable time and benefits are otherwise payable.
In newer policies the language used by the disability insurance companies has become ever more burdensome. For instance, some modern provisions for examinations and interviews create far more specific duties for the policyholder and condition the payment of benefits on the claimant’s satisfaction of these duties. Take this Guardian policy, for example, which outlines the policyholder’s duties and obligations to comply with examinations and interviews in very specific language:
We have the right to have You examined at Our expense and as often as We may reasonably require to determine Your eligibility for benefits under the Policy as part of Proof of Loss. We reserve the right to select the examiner. The examiner will be a specialist appropriate to the assessment of Your claim.
The examinations may include but are not limited to medical examinations, functional capacity examinations, psychiatric examinations, vocational evaluations, rehabilitation evaluations, and occupational analyses. Such examinations may include any related tests that are reasonably necessary to the performance of the examination. We will pay for the examination. We may deny or suspend benefits under the Policy if You fail to attend an examination or fail to cooperate with the examiner.
You must meet with Our representative for a personal interview or review of records at such time and place, and as frequently as We reasonably require. Upon Our request, You must provide appropriate documentation.
Examination provisions containing language this specific and this restrictive significantly limit your rights. The most significant change in the evolution of the examination provision is the number of obligations upon which your benefits are conditioned. This policy language allows disability insurers to use your benefits as leverage to compel your compliance with medical exams, interviews, and a litany of other examinations.
Review your disability insurance policy, and particularly your examination provisions in the “Claims” section, to determine what your rights, duties, and obligations are under your policy. Unfortunately, if your policy requires to participate in examinations, a refusal will likely lead to a denial of benefits. However, you do not have to attend alone. No matter how restrictive the language in your disability insurance policy, you always have the right to have an attorney present for any examination or interview. If you have any questions about your duties or obligations under your policy, contact an experienced disability insurance attorney.