This Friday and Saturday, May 16-17, Comitz | Beethe will have a booth in the exhibitor hall of the Arizona Society of Anesthesiologists 40th Annual Scientific Meeting at the Scottsdale Resort and Conference Center. Attendees are invited to stop by our booth for information about our law firm, what doctors can expect when filing a disability insurance claim, and how our firm may be able to assist you.
UPDATE: Since this story was originally posted in 2008, the insurance regulators of Maine and Massachusetts initiated targeted market conduct examinations of CIGNA’s disability claims handling practices. The concerns raised by Maine and Massachusetts prompted the insurance commissioners of Connecticut and Pennsylvania to also open market conduct examinations and for the California Insurance Commissioner to reopen his previous examination of CIGNA. In 2013, the examinations resulted in fines against the CIGNA companies, corrective actions being required in its handling of disability claims, and for CIGNA to reevaluate certain claims that were denied or terminated. Information on the CIGNA Multi-State Regulatory Settlement Agreement is discussed in greater detail in another of our blog posts at the link above.
ABC News/Good Morning America‘s investigation by Chris Cuomo into CIGNA disability claim denials has uncovered some disturbing stories. In the video above, claimants describe some of the hardships they have been forced to endure due to denials of their claims or unreasonable delays in having their claims paid.
One breast cancer survivor, who eventually was paid on her claim with the assistance of a disability insurance attorney, describes her two-year ordeal with CIGNA as a “daily, eight-hour job just to fulfill the information that CIGNA was requesting.” The tactic of wearing down a disabled claimant with repeated requests for documentation that has already been provided multiple times — thereby deliberately delaying payment of the claim — is called “slow walking” by some in the industry. While CIGNA denies engaging in this practice, many claimants who are already emotionally and physically vulnerable due to their disability will eventually quit pursuing benefits to which they are entitled in this battle of attrition that is widespread in the disability insurance industry. In this situation, it is often necessary for a claimant to retain the services of an attorney, not only to take on legal issues with the insurance company but also to shoulder the burden of the excessive and repetitive requests for documentation.
Other claimants in Chris Cuomo’s GMA piece describe (a) three years of fighting CIGNA for their benefits, all the while sinking deeply into debt and losing everything; (b) being caught between a rock and a hard place when told by an employer that he could not return to work due to his disability, but simultaneously having CIGNA deny disability benefits; (c) purchasing insurance to protect herself and her family, only to have her business destroyed, savings depleted and fighting to keep her family home when benefits were denied or delayed.
Another of the claimants profiled, Ursula Guidry, a young wife and mother with advanced breast cancer, initially had her benefits paid by CIGNA, but after awhile, they terminated her benefits and told her she could return to work full-time. Eventually CIGNA settled the claim with her. She passed away three months later. As her husband says, it is tragic that her last year on earth was spent being in a panic over financial issues and fighting an unethical insurance company instead of enjoying as much time as possible with her husband and children.
CIGNA did not respond to GMA re any of the specific claimants profiled, but their Chief Medical Officer stated they pay 90% of disability claims filed and that the majority of their customers are satisfied.
Question: How should doctors approach their treating physicians about a disability claim?
Answer: Your treating physician’s support can often be critical to getting your claim approved. A hurried, uninterested physician may not have time to devote to your claim. In addition, fully discussing your condition with a professional, compassionate treating physician will help ensure supportive medical records. When to discuss your potential claim with a physician is an important timing issue. Also, when the time comes to speak to the treating physician about the claim, a disabled dentist or doctor should ensure that the treating physician understands the definition of “disability” under the insurance policy, so that he or she can accurately opine as to the inability of the doctor or dentist to work.
In early June, SuperShuttle International, Inc., a Scottsdale, Arizona-based transportation company commonly used for shared rides to the airports, and the United States Justice Department reached a settlement in a complaint alleging that SuperShuttle discriminated against an individual with a disability.
The complaint alleged that SuperShuttle forced the complainant, who is blind, and her traveling companions to use a pricier, non-shared ride to their destination because the complainant was traveling with a service dog. Instead of the group being charged the shared-ride fee of $91 to travel by van from the airport to their hotel, they were booked on an exclusive shared trip at a rate of $125 because, per the SuperShuttle agent, “no one would want to travel with a service animal.”
Under the terms of the settlement, SuperShuttle is to implement a revised policy re service animals for people with disabilities, disseminate the policy to all employees and franchisees and train them in complying with the policies, post “Service Animals Welcome” signs in conspicuous locations at each guest service center, and pay $1,000 to the complainant.
A full copy of the Settlement Agreement reached between the U.S. Department of Justice and SuperShuttle is available at this link.
Disability attorneys from the law firm of Comitz | Beethe will be available to speak with anesthesiologists attending the 39th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Arizona Society of Anesthesiologists this Friday and Saturday at the Scottsdale Resort and Conference Center. If you have questions regarding your disability insurance policy or filing a disability claim, please feel free to stop by our exhibitor table for informative materials and/or to talk with one of the attorneys at our booth.
Two disability advocacy groups, the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability Power & Pride, have teamed up to host the second Disability Community Inaugural Ball on January 19th at the National Press Club. The ball is one of many in Washington, D.C. over the weekend to celebrate President Obama’s inauguration.
The fully-accessible Disability Community Inaugural Ball is open to the public, with more than 400 guests expected. It is also anticipated that members of Congress will attend, possibly including the ball’s honorary committee members, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. and Kareem Dale, a disability adviser to President Obama. Event planners see the ball as an opportunity for people with disabilities to come together as a community, potentially make an impression on Washington, and, of course, to have fun.
Americans have always understood that each of us is entitled to a set of fundamental freedoms and protections under the law, and that when everyone gets a fair shot at opportunity, all of us do better. For more than two decades, our country has upheld those basic promises for persons with disabilities through the Americans with Disabilities Act — a sweeping civil rights bill that moved our Nation forward in the journey to equality for all. And from making health care more affordable to ensuring new technologies are accessible, we have continued to build on that progress, guided by the belief that equal access and equal opportunity are common principles that unite us as one Nation.
On the 20th International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we reaffirm that the struggle to ensure the rights of every person does not end at our borders, but extends to every country and every community. It continues for the woman who is at greater risk of abuse because of a disability and for the child who is denied the chance to get an education because of the way he was born. It goes on for the 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide who all too often cannot attend school, find work, access medical care, or receive fair treatment. These injustices are an affront to our shared humanity — which is why the United States has joined 153 other countries around the world in signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which calls on all nations to establish protections and liberties like those afforded under the Americans with Disabilities Act. While Americans with disabilities already enjoy these rights at home, they frequently face barriers when they travel, conduct business, study, or reside overseas. Ratifying the Convention in the Senate would reaffirm America’s position as the global leader on disability rights and better position us to encourage progress toward inclusion, equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for persons with disabilities worldwide.
We have come far in the long march to achieve equal opportunity for all. But even as we partner with countries across the globe in affirming universal human rights, we know our work will not be finished until the inherent dignity and worth of all persons with disabilities is guaranteed. Today, let us renew our commitment to meeting that challenge here in the United States, and let us redouble our efforts to build new paths to participation, empowerment, and progress around the world.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim December 3, 2012, as International Day of Persons with Disabilities. I call on all Americans to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this third day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.
The Paralympic Games have returned to London, more than a million tickets have been sold, and some events have been sold out for months. A live feed of the games can be accessed on five channels via the official website of the Paralympic Movement.
Each sport has its own criteria for qualification, but all athletes in the games are disabled, bringing exciting twists to the sports we’re used to seeing in the Olympics. Among the sports in the Summer Games are Sitting Volleyball (pictured above), Wheelchair Basketball, Wheelchair Tennis, Para-Triathlon and Wheelchair Fencing.
Sitting Volleyball, for example, requires a smaller court and a lower net and is thus considerably faster than standing volleyball. At all times, an athlete’s pelvis must be touching the ground and service blocks are allowed. In London 2012, 198 athletes with disabilities will be competing in Sitting Volleyball.
In the Swimming competition, the second largest sport at the Paralympic Games, visually impaired swimmers wear blackened goggles to ensure fair competition and have a “tapper” who uses a pole to tap the swimmer as he or she approaches the wall. Aided starts are allowed in Paralympic competition, such as from standing beside the podium, from a sitting position in the water, or having assistance with balance on the podium, provided that an unfair advantage is not reached from this assistance.
Further information on the schedule and the sports is available at the official website.
Obstacles in the form of steep ramps, narrow doorways, inadequate signage, etc. continue to vex voters with disabilities. In the U.S. District Court of New York, testimony is underway from a plaintiff, Denise McQuade, who alleges that she encountered an array of difficulties attempting to vote in previous elections and even had to be carried up and down stairs.
As we have blogged previously, even absentee ballots can present difficulties for some voters with disabilities. As described in our post last election season, in Oregon, where voting can only be done by absentee ballot, Apple has tested innovative means of making voting easier for people with disabilities.
The U.S. Department of Justice has a detailed ADA Checklist for Polling Places that contains many solutions for making polling places more accessible for the disabled. The checklist is available at this link.
While the litigation in New York is still pending, counsel has requested that the Board of Elections implement short term remedies prior to the November election.
The Arizona Assistive Technology Exchange is an online resource where Arizonans with disabilities can buy, sell, exchange, or donate assistive devices/durable medical equipment so that it is in the hands of those who can benefit from the equipment. At the time of this blog post, there were 81 pages of items available, ranging from a free talking watch for the visually impaired to an electric patient lift being sold for a couple thousand dollars.
The program is for the use of individuals with disabilities, not for the use or profit of vendors or equipment distributors.
The site also has a section where “Items Needed” can be posted. The Arizona Technology Access Program can be viewed at this link.