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Comitz | Beethe Attorney Ed Comitz Posts CE Course on Dentaltown

Ed Comitz’s Continuing Education course “Disability Insurance Roulette: Why is it So Hard to Collect on My Policy” is now available through Dentaltown.  This CE is an electronically delivered, self-instructional program and is designated for 2 hours of CE credit.  In this course, Ed discusses why it is so difficult for dentists to collect disability benefits and how to avoid the most common mistakes made by dentists when filing disability claims.  Ed also covers the key provisions to look for in disability insurance policies and provides an overview of the disability claims process.  Finally, the course discusses how disability insurance claims are investigated and administered, and identifies common strategies used by insurance companies to deny claims.

Information on how to register can be found here

 

For more information regarding what to look for in a policy, see this podcast interview where Ed Comitz discusses the importance of disability insurance with Dentaltown’s Howard Farran.

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Are Benefits Taxable?

 

The Answer Is: It Depends

Whether your disability benefit payments are taxable depends on what type of policy or plan you have and how your premiums are paid.  This post is not intended as tax advice—we’ve outlined some basic information below only.  You should always speak with a tax professional regarding your particular situation.

Individual Policies:  These are policies that you purchase yourself.  Generally speaking, if you pay the premiums with after-tax dollars, the benefits you receive are tax free.  However, if you pay with pre-tax dollars or deduct your premiums as a business expense, then your benefits will likely be subject to federal income taxation.

Group Policies: Group policies are those offered through associations such as the ADA or AMA.   These types of policies offer special terms, conditions, and rates to members and function much like individual policies, with similar tax consequences.  Generally speaking, if you pay the premiums (with after-tax dollars) then the benefits you receive are tax free.

Employer-Sponsored Policies: These types of policies can be less straightforward when it comes to taxes, as the payment of premiums can be structured several ways.  According to the IRS website:

  • If your employer pays the premium and does not include the cost of the premiums in your gross income, then benefits you receive will generally be fully taxable.
  • If the employer only offers a policy, but you pay the entire premium without taking a tax deduction, then the benefits you receive will generally be tax-free.
  • If both your employer and you pay the premiums then the tax liability will generally be split.

If you are unsure what type of policy or plan you have, and you think your employer might be paying the premiums, you can look at your application (there is typically a portion that states who is responsible for the premiums) or talk to your HR department.  For more information, talk to your accountant.  You can also go to to the IRS website on disability insurance proceeds to find additional information.

It may be tempting to save money by enrolling only in a plan solely paid for by your employer, paying premiums with pre-tax dollars, or deducting premiums as business expenses.  But keep in mind that, if you do become disabled, the amount of your benefits actually available to you will substantially decrease if you are required to pay income tax on them.

Selecting a policy is an important decision, and how benefits will be taxed is a significant factor to consider. With statistics showing that one in four dentists will be disabled long enough to collect benefits at some point in their careers, choosing to save now could hurt you financially down the road.

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Understanding Your Policy: Examination Provisions

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.

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Understanding Your Policy: Maximum Benefit Period

Your maximum benefit period is one of the most important provisions in your disability insurance policy.  Its terms control the period of time during which you are eligible to receive benefits under your policy.  Many disability insurance policies pay benefits until age 65 or 67, while others pay lifetime benefits.  Others still pay benefits only for a limited amount of time even if the claim  is filed decades before the policy terminates.

It is crucial that you read your policy carefully to fully understand how your maximum benefit period affects your ability to file a claim and collect benefits.  Many people, especially doctors and dentists, work through their pain without realizing that it may affect their maximum benefit period.  As you will see in some of the policy examples we look at in this post, oftentimes the maximum benefit period is more complicated than you may expect.

To begin, some policies have straightforward maximum benefit periods, like this policy from Central Life:

            Maximum Benefit Period for Injury or Sickness

            For Total Disability Starting:

    1. Before Age 63                                                  To Age 65
    2. At or After Age 63                                           24 Months

As you might expect, if you have a policy with this provision and file a claim before age 63, you will receive benefits until age 65.  However, if you file a claim at or after age 63, you will receive only 24 months of benefits.

Most modern policies contain a benefit schedule that details the length of your benefit period more precisely, based upon your age at the time the claim is filed.  This policy from MetLife contains a maximum benefit period schedule similar to those found in many disability insurance policies:

Table A.         Maximum Benefit Period Varies By Age When Disability Begins

Age When Disability Begins                         Maximum Benefit Period

Before Age 61                                               To Age 65

At Age 61, before Age 62                               48 Months

At Age 62, before Age 63                               42 Months

At Age 63, before Age 64                               36 Months

At Age 64, before Age 65                               30 Months

At Age 65, before Age 75                               24 Months

At or after Age 75                                          12 Months

Though on the surface this provision may seem more complicated that the Central Life provision, the principle is the same: date of disability at X age, you are eligible for benefits until 65 or for X months.  The date of your disability determines whether you receive benefits to age 65 or only for a few years or months.  The older you are, the fewer months of benefits you will receive.  The only difference is the more precise breakdown of the maximum benefit period after you reach age 61.

When looking for your maximum benefit period, keep in mind that it may be defined in one place, and then clarified elsewhere in the policy.  This can be confusing to the policyholder – for example, take a look at this Paul Revere policy:

   Commencement Date            Maximum                   Maximum

          Monthly Amount        Benefit Period*

From Injury:        91st Day of Disability              $2,600.00                    To Age 65

From Sickness:     91st Day of Disability              $2,600.00                    To Age 65

*The Maximum Benefit Period may change due to your age at total disability.  Please see Policy Schedule II.

At first glance, it may appear to the policyholder that they are eligible for benefits until age 65, regardless of when his or her disability starts.  However, when you turn to Policy Schedule II, you find a benefit schedule identical to the MetLife policy discussed above.  If you had this policy and did not read it carefully, you might assume that you are not eligible for benefits if you become disabled at age 65 – ultimately depriving yourself of the 24 months of benefits you would still be eligible to receive.

Some policies require a bit more calculation.  For example, policies like this one from Mutual of Omaha take your Social Security Normal Retirement Age into account:

Age at Disability Maximum Benefit Period
61 or less to Age 65 or to Your Social Security Normal Retirement Age, or 3 years and 6 months, whichever is longer
62 to Your Social Security Normal Retirement Age or 3 years and 6 months, whichever is longer
63 to Your Social Security Normal Retirement Age or 3 years, whichever is longer
64 to your Social Security Normal Retirement Age or 2 years and 6 months, whichever is longer
65 2 years
66 1 year and 9 months
67 1 year and 6 months
68 1 year and 3 months
69 or older 1 year

This provision is ultimately designed to work out to your benefit by providing you with the longest period of time, but its multiple parameters require a bit of calculation to determine your actual maximum benefit period. If your policy contains a provision like this, you can use this calculator to determine your Normal Retirement Age.

Finally, it is important to note that many policies have specific, limited benefit periods for certain conditions such as mental illness and substance abuse.  It is extremely important that you read your policy carefully to understand these exceptions, like the provision found in this MetLife policy:

Limited Monthly Benefit for Mental Disorders and/or Substance Use Disorders

The Maximum Benefit Period is limited to 24 months for all periods of Disability during your lifetime if:

    1. Such Disability is due to a Mental Disorder and/or Substance Use Disorder;
    2. You otherwise qualify for Disability benefits; and
    3. You are not confined in a Hospital.

However, any time during which you are confined in a Hospital does not count towards this 24-month limit.

As you can see from just these five examples, the maximum benefit provision can take many different forms in a disability insurance policy.  It is critical that you read your policy carefully and have a firm grasp on how your maximum benefit period provision affects your eligibility for benefits.  If you have any questions about your policy, contact an experienced disability insurance attorney.

 

 

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Policy Riders: A Guide to the Bells and Whistles of Individual Disability Insurance – Part 4

Provisions Appearing As Policy Terms or As Riders (2 of 2)

In this series of posts we are discussing policy riders, the add-ons to your basic disability insurance policy that provide additional terms or benefits in exchange for higher premiums. In part one, we walked through the basics of policy riders and evaluated the commonly-purchased COLA rider. In part two, we analyzed two benefit-based riders that enable you to increase your monthly benefits without the hassle of applying for additional coverage.

In the part three, we looked at a pair of provisions that may appear as policy terms or as riders, depending on the insurer.  Some of these provisions can have a significant effect on your rights and benefits in the event of a disability, and identifying where and how they may fit into your policy is critical to ensuring you are fully protected.  In this fourth post, we’ll look at two more provisions that sometimes appear as policy terms and sometimes appear as riders, depending on the insurer.

Own Occupation

On this blog we have spent a significant amount of time writing the importance of purchasing an individual disability insurance policy to that defines “Total Disability” in terms of your own occupation, rather than any occupation.  This is especially true for doctors, dentists, and other highly specialized professionals who have invested years of time and hundreds of thousands of dollars in their careers.

To determine if you have an own occupation policy, look under the “Definitions” section of your policy for the definition of “Total Disability”:

Total Disability or Totally Disabled means that, solely due to Injury or Sickness, You are not able to perform the material and substantial duties of Your Occupation.

Your Occupation means the regular occupation in which are engaged in at the time you become disabled.

This is a typical own occupation definition of Total Disability.  If your policy does not define total disability in terms of Your Occupation, Your Regular Occupation, Your Current Occupation, or similar language, it is unlikely that you have an own occupation policy.  If that is the case, you may nonetheless be able to purchase an own occupation rider.  An own occupation rider will likely come with a significant premium increase, but for most medical professionals the high cost is justified by the additional income security the provision provides.

Lifetime Benefits

Most modern-day disability insurance policies pay benefits until the policyholder reaches age 65, though in some unique cases a standard policy may pay lifetime benefits.  More often, however, a lifetime benefits provision must be purchased as a policy rider.  The provision usually includes language stipulating that the disabling condition must occur before a certain age (typically between 45 and 55) in order for the policyholder to be eligible for lifetime benefits at 100% of their monthly benefit.  If the condition occurs after the cutoff age, the policyholder will only be paid a percentage of their monthly benefits for the remainder of their lifetime.  For example, the provision may structured as follows:

Lifetime Benefit Percentage is determined based upon the following table:

If Your continuous                                                                 The Lifetime Benefit

Total Disability started:                                                          Percentage is:

Prior to Age 46                                                                              100%

At or after Age 50, but before Age 51                                               75%

At or after Age 55, but before Age 56                                               50%

At or after Age 60, but before Age 61                                               25%

At or after Age 64, but before Age 65                                               5%

At or after Age 65                                                                           0%

A lifetime benefit extension rider can be enormously advantageous if you become disabled prior to the cutoff age.  However, as you can see from the table, it can also have rapidly diminishing returns if you become disabled later in life, depending on your policy’s terms.

In the last post of this series on disability insurance policy riders, we’ll be taking a look at some of the more recent policy rider products disability insurance companies are offering to the next generation of professionals, such as the student loan rider.

 

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Policy Riders: A Guide to the Bells and Whistles of Individual Disability Insurance – Part 3

Provisions Appearing As Policy Terms or As Riders (1 of 2)

In this series of posts we are discussing policy riders, the add-ons to your basic disability insurance policy that provide additional terms or benefits in exchange for higher premiums. In part one, we walked through the basics of policy riders and evaluated the commonly-purchased COLA rider. In part two, we analyzed two benefit-based riders that enable you to increase your monthly benefits without the hassle of applying for additional coverage.

All of the provisions we’ve discussed so far are typically purchased as policy riders, and are rarely included in the basic terms of your policy.  In the next two posts, however, we will evaluate provisions that may appear as policy terms or as riders, depending on the insurer.  Whether an additional provision is included in your policy or must be attached as a rider, additional benefits typically come with a higher premium. Some of these provisions can have a significant effect on your rights and benefits in the event of a disability, and identifying where and how they may fit into your policy is critical to ensuring you are fully protected.

Partial/Residual Disability Benefits

Partial disability benefits, also referred to as residual disability benefits, pay a percentage of the maximum benefit amount in the event that the policyholder’s medical condition prevents him or her from performing some, but not all, of the duties of his or her occupation on a full-time basis.  At first, this may appear to be an attractive option for a dentist suffering from a lumbar disc herniation, for example, who wishes to keep working to the degree he is able while receiving a portion of his disability benefits.

The most important benefit of a residual disability claim is that it allows you to preserve your pre-disability occupational definition while collecting a portion of your monthly disability benefits. If you have an own occupation policy, preserving your pre-disability occupational definition is vital to ensuring that any future total disability claim is accepted and fully paid down the road.

However, there are also some drawbacks to partial disability claims. For example, most insurers calculate monthly benefits for a partial disability claim using a formula that takes into account your prior monthly income, your current monthly income, and the maximum benefit amount under your policy.  However, calculating these figures can be tricky for doctors and dentists who are often paid a percentage of their production.  If your insurer measures your prior and current monthly income based on the overall profit of your clinic, your personal drop in production may not be fully taken into account and your partial disability benefits may end up being significantly less than your actual lost income.

Furthermore, the maximum benefit period for a partial disability claim is typically shorter than a total disability claim. As a result, your insurer has an incentive to continue characterizing your medical condition as a partial disability even if you become totally disabled. In doing so, they may run out the clock paying only a percentage of your benefits for 60 months or until age 65 instead of paying full benefits potentially for life. With these incentives, it is unsurprising that insurers approve relatively few total disability claims that begin as partial disability claims – even if the policyholder stops working completely.  For more information on how insurers assess potential disability claims, see this article.

Some insurers include a partial/residual disability provision in the terms of their standard disability insurance policy, while others offer it as a policy rider. To determine if residual disability benefits are part of your standard policy, check the “Definitions” section of your policy to see if “Partial Disability” or “Residual Disability” is a defined term. If it is, check the section of your policy titled “Benefits” or “Monthly Income Benefits” – if this section contains provisions describing the payment of residual disability benefits, they are included in the standard terms of your policy.

If residual or partial disability is not defined in your policy, the provision is only available as a policy rider. If residual disability benefits are not included in the terms of your policy, consider the pros and cons outlined above before purchasing residual coverage as a policy rider.  The advantages of residual disability benefits may not justify the additional cost associated with the rider in your particular case.

Waiver of Premium

This provision allows you to forego paying your policy premiums while you are receiving disability benefits, freeing up a substantial portion of your monthly income you would otherwise be paying back to the insurance company. This provision usually includes a waiting period – typically ninety days – before it kicks in. Once the waiver takes effect, however, it can significantly ease the financial burden created by a disabling condition, saving you hundreds of dollars every month.

A premium waiver is a standard term in most modern-day disability insurance policies.  The provision is typically found toward the end of the “Benefits” section of your policy, under the subheading “Waiver of Premium.”  If your policy does not include this provision, you may consider purchasing it as a rider.

As you read through your policy, look carefully to determine which of the provisions discussed above appear in your disability insurance policy.  Not only will this help you fully understand your rights under your policy, it will help you determine if additional riders are necessary to fully protect your financial security in the event of a disability.  In our next post, we will look at two more provisions that may appear either as riders or as policy terms.

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Policy Riders: A Guide to the Bells and Whistles of Individual Disability Insurance – Part 1

An Introduction to Policy Riders

In this series of posts we will evaluate the policy riders offered by most disability insurance companies in addition to their basic terms of their policies.  A policy rider is an add-on provision at an additional cost that provides you with additional benefits and/or terms not included in a standard policy.  Individual disability insurance policies have very little room for modification or customization outside of choosing your monthly benefit amount. Policy riders allow you to customize certain aspects of your policy based on your individual needs.

Doctors, dentists, and other professionals purchase disability insurance policies to protect their earning potential and the time and money they’ve invested in their careers.  The basic provisions of an individual disability insurance policy, however, may not be enough to protect you in the event of a disability.  Policy riders may be necessary to ensure that your financial future is secure if you become disabled.

In this first post, we will evaluate a common and widely-available policy rider that can help you protect your benefits from a changing economy: the Cost-of-Living Adjustment rider.

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Rider

A COLA rider automatically increases your benefit amount by a certain percentage every year to account for increased cost-of-living due to inflation.  To determine the annual percentage increase, your insurer will often let you choose between a set percentage and tying it to an establish index such as the Consumer Price Index (CPI).  Most insurers will cap the overall increase in benefits – often at one or two times the original benefit amount.

Imagine that you become permanently disabled at age 45 due to severe cervical spinal stenosis.  Your individual disability insurance policy pays $20,000.00 per month to age 65.  Ten years in, you’re still receiving $20,000.00 per month, but inflation has risen at an average of 1.6% per year according to the CPI.  Without a COLA rider, your $20,000.00 has approximately $3,440.00 less buying power than it did ten years ago.  With a COLA rider tied to the CPI, your benefit amount will increase along with inflation and at ten years you will receive $23,440.00 per month rather than $20,000.00 per month.

This particular rider is very important for long-term individual disability insurance, and if you are considering purchasing a policy you should strongly consider a COLA rider for the best long-term income protection. It is a fairly expensive increase to your monthly premium, but it will ensure that your buying power and lifestyle are not affected by inflation in the event of a long-term disability.

In our next post, we will discuss the Automatic Benefit Increase rider, the Future Increase Option rider, and how they both allow you to increase your benefits down the road without jumping through the hoops of reapplying for additional coverage.

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The Devil Is In the Details: Long Term Disability Policies and Benefit Offsets

In a previous post, we discussed a feature of long-term disability insurance policies that is easily overlooked and frequently leaves policyholders feeling cheated and deceived by their insurer:  the benefit offset provision.  When a person signs up for a disability insurance policy, he or she expects to pay a certain premium in exchange for the assurance that the insurance company will provide the agreed-upon monthly benefit listed in the policy, should they ever become disabled.  What many people do not realize is that some disability insurance policies contain language that permits the insurer to reduce the amount of monthly benefits it is required to pay if the policyholder receives other benefits from another source.

Worker’s compensation, supplementary disability insurance policies, state disability benefits, and social security are some of the most common “other sources” from which policyholders may unexpectedly find their disability insurance benefits subject to an offset.  The frequency of offset provisions varies by policy type.  They are more likely to appear in group policies and employer-sponsored ERISA policies, and are rarely found in individual disability insurance policies.

Benefit offset provisions can have significant and often unforeseen financial repercussions, as illustrated by the recent account of a couple from Fremont, Nebraska.  As reported by WOWT Channel 6 News, Mike Rydel and his wife Carla were receiving monthly benefits under Mr. Rydel’s disability insurance policy with Cigna.  Mr. Rydel had suffered a stroke in the fall of 2015 that had left him incapacitated and unable to work.  The Rydels’ financial situation was made even more dire by Mr. Rydel’s need for 24-hour care, which prevented Mrs. Rydel from working as well.

In an effort to supplement his family’s income, Mr. Rydel applied for Social Security disability benefits.  When his claim was approved, the Rydels expected a much needed boost to their monthly income.  Unfortunately, due to an offset provision in Mr. Rydel’s policy, his monthly benefits under the Cigna policy were reduced as a result of the approved Social Security claim, and his family did not realize any increase in income.

The Rydels were understandably shocked when they were informed by Cigna that Mr. Rydel’s monthly disability insurance benefits would be reduced by the amount he was now receiving from Social Security, and that Cigna would be pocketing the difference.  Perversely, the only party that benefited from Mr. Rydel’s SSDI benefits was Cigna, which was off the hook for a portion of Mr. Rydel’s monthly benefits.  In response to an inquiry from WOWT, Cigna simply asserted that “coordination” of private insurance benefits and government benefits was a long-standing practice – an assurance that likely provided no solace to the Rydels.

The Rydels’ story highlights the importance of carefully reviewing every aspect of your disability insurance policy before signing.  Benefit offsets, policy riders, occupational definitions, and appropriate care standards in your policy can significantly impact your ability to collect full benefits if you become disabled.  You should review your policy carefully to determine if it contains any offset provisions that may affect your benefits.  If it does, you will need to take them into account when estimating your monthly benefits.

References:

http://www.wowt.com/content/news/Stroke-Victim-Suffers-Disability-Insurance-Set-Back-385758411.html

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Thinking About a Policy Buyout? How Lump Sum Settlements Work: Part 2

In this two-part series we are addressing the two most common scenarios in which insurance companies pursue lump sum buyouts.  In Part 1, we talked about buyouts for individuals who are totally and permanently disabled and have been on claim for several years.  In Part 2, we will address the other scenario in which buyouts occur: after a lawsuit has been filed.

In the context of an individual disability insurance policy, a lawsuit is generally filed in one of two common scenarios: (1) a person on claim with a legitimate disability has their benefits terminated; or, (2) a person with a legitimate disability has their claim denied.  A lawsuit is typically considered to be the last line of defense in the claims process.  By the time a lawsuit has been filed, the claimant’s attorney has likely exhausted every available means to resolve the claim without legal action.  Litigation is costly, time-consuming, and can drag on for years.

If an insurance company offers a lump sum buyout during litigation, it will typically be at one of three stages in the case: (1) after the Complaint and Answer are filed; (2) after all stages of pretrial litigation and discovery are complete; or (3) after the claimant/plaintiff wins at trial.

The first stage of any lawsuit is the filing of the Complaint.  This is a document the plaintiff files with the court outlining all of the claims and allegations against the defendant.  After receiving a copy of the Complaint, the defendant then has a specified period of time in which to file an Answer responding to the plaintiff’s allegations.

Prior to the filing of a lawsuit, a contested claim has likely been reviewed only by the insurance company’s in-house attorneys.  However, once litigation begins, the insurance company will retain a law firm experienced in insurance litigation to handle the case.  After the filing of the Complaint, the insurance company’s outside counsel will have the opportunity to evaluate the strength of the case and the claim.  Viewing the case through the prism of their experience, the insurer’s litigation team may recommend offering a buyout to avoid the risk, costs, and time associated with the lawsuit.

The second point of a lawsuit at which a buyout may occur is after all stages of pretrial litigation are complete.  Once the parties have had the opportunity to conduct discovery and litigate any pretrial motions, they will have a full picture of the case and their prospects at trial.  Through discovery both sides will be able to obtain all documents and interview all witnesses the other side intends to use at trial.  Through the filing of pretrial motions the parties can attempt to prevent or limit the use of certain evidence or witnesses at trial.

At this juncture, the insurance company may seek to avoid the risks of trial and settle the claim before the first juror is ever impaneled.  The insurance company’s incentive to resolve the case at this point – even after both sides have invested substantial resources in the litigation – is the financial exposure and bad publicity it faces with a loss at trial.  Additionally, a bad result at trial for the insurance company could create undesirable legal precedent for future cases.

If a jury (or a judge, depending on the case) determines that the insurance company has unlawfully denied or terminated a legitimate disability claim, the insurer will not only be required to pay the benefits the claimant/plaintiff is entitled to, but may also be liable for damages and other costs.  The insurer may be required to pay back benefits, plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees and costs, consequential damages, and punitive damages.

In the context of a disability insurance lawsuit, consequential damages come in the form of any financial harm to the claimant/plaintiff resulting from the insurer’s denial or termination of benefits.  For example, if the insurer’s termination of benefits led to the claimant/plaintiff losing their house in foreclosure, the insurer could be liable for consequential damages.  Punitive damages are designed to deter the insurer from denying legitimate claims in the future, and can be multiplied several times over if the insurer is found to have acted in bad faith.  Additionally, some states allow acceleration of benefits – in which the courts can order the insurer to immediately pay future benefits that would owed to the claimant/plaintiff over the full life of the policy.

The final stage at which a lump sum buyout may be offered is after a victory at trial by the claimant/plaintiff.  You may be wondering why anybody would entertain a settlement offer right after a being awarded back benefits, damages, and costs at trial – why accept anything less?  The answer is simple: appeals.  The insurance company can tie up a trial court victory in the court of appeals for years, which they can use as leverage to offer a settlement smaller than the trial award.

Though these three stages of litigation are the most common points at which a buyout may occur, buyouts themselves are uncommon during litigation.  Depending on the situation, the specter of a long, drawn out legal battle can either provide the insurance company with the incentive to settle the lawsuit early with a buyout or harden its resolve to fight the claim to the bitter end.  You cannot count on simply filing a lawsuit and expecting the insurance company to be eager to settle.  Some insurance companies want to settle early and avoid the financial risks and bad publicity of a defeat at trial, while others take a hard line and use their nearly limitless resources to fight a war of attrition.  Ultimately, whether or not an insurer offers a lump sum buyout in the midst of litigation depends largely on the individual facts of the case, the risks at trial, and the parties and attorneys involved.

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Thinking About A Policy Buyout? How Lump Sum Settlements Work: Part 1

Lump sum buyouts are a frequent source of questions from our clients and potential clients. With that in mind, the next few posts will address different aspects of the buyout process.

Buyouts typically occur in one of two situations: 1) after you’ve been on claim for several years, or 2) after a lawsuit has been filed.  This blog post will focus on the first scenario.

Lump sum buyouts that occur outside of litigation normally won’t occur unless and until the insurance company decides that you are totally and permanently disabled under the policy definition.  Typically, the insurer won’t consider whether this is the case until you’ve been on claim for at least two years.  If the insurer determines that you’re totally and permanently disabled, it will then determine whether it makes sense financially for the company to offer you a percentage of your total future benefits rather than keep paying your monthly benefits for the entire duration of your claim.

To understand how the insurance company calculates whether a buyout is in its financial interest, you should understand how insurance company reserves work.  The purpose of reserves is to ensure that the insurance company has the resources to fulfill its obligations to policyholders even if the company has financial difficulties.  Thus, disability insurers are required by state regulators to keep a certain amount of money set aside, or “reserved,” to pay future claims.  Any money required to be kept in a reserve is money that the insurer can’t spend on other things or pay out in dividends.  The amounts required to be kept in the reserve are determined by the state, depending on factors like how much the monthly benefit is and how long the claim is expected to last.

For a disability insurance claim, a graph of the required reserve amount over time looks like a Bell curve: low at the beginning, highest in the middle, and low again towards the end of the benefit period.  The ideal time for a settlement, from an insurance company’s perspective, is at or just before the high middle point–typically about five to seven years into the claim, depending on the claimant’s age and the duration of the benefit period.  At this point, the company is having to set aside the highest amount of money in the reserve.

If the insurance company can pay you a percentage of your total future benefits, it can not only save money in the long run, but it can release the money in the reserve.  The insurer can then use those funds for other purposes, including providing dividends for its investors.  In addition, the insurance company will save all of the administrative expenses it was putting towards monitoring your claim.

In the next post, we’ll address how and why buyouts occur after a lawsuit has been filed.

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