We often advise doctors and dentists facing a disability insurance claim to handle all of their communications with the insurance company via mail rather than on the telephone. There are several reasons why written letters are better than verbal communication. For example:
• Claims handlers are trained to ask loaded questions. While the questions they ask may seem routine or mundane to the policyholder, the answers they elicit can have serious consequences that can help the insurance company deny a legitimate claim. For example, a claims administrator might call and ask what you have been doing that day. If you answer that you went out to pick up a prescription, the claims administrator can misconstrue your response as proof that you are not disabled from your occupation. No matter how short or how unavoidable your errand may have been, the insurance company can argue that if you are able to leave the house and perform limited activities, you can still perform your job. If the same question is posed in a letter, you can take the time to carefully consider the question and its consequences, preferably having a disability insurance lawyer help you to answer in a way that won’t be misconstrued.
• Telephone conversations may not be documented accurately. When a claims handler calls a policyholder to discuss his or her disability benefits, the handler will normally write a memo of what was said during the call for the claim file. These memos are used as evidence for disability benefit determinations, and potentially for later litigation. The primary problem is that the memos are written by the claims handler for the benefit of the insurance company, so whether intentionally or not, they are one-sided and biased towards the company’s interests. Another problem occurs when the claims handler doesn’t write a call memo at all; important conversations can be lost entirely. On the other hand, if a policyholder exchanges letters with the insurance company (and keeps copies), the insured can document his or her side of the story without worrying that something will be lost or misreported.
• Insurance companies use jargon that can be hard to understand. As Unum’s UK CEO has admitted, insurance companies use language that is indecipherable to most policyholders. If a claims handler calls you to talk about an elimination period, reservation of rights, ERISA, or the own-occupation definition of disability, you may not be able to completely process what he or she is telling you on the spot. This can cause you to miss important details or inadvertently waive important rights. If the same information comes to you in writing, however, you have time to research the terms and/or get advice from a disability insurance attorney.
For these reasons and more, it is crucial to get communications with your disability insurance company in writing. At the very least, a person filing for disability insurance benefits should take detailed notes of every conversation with an insurance company representative.