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.
Comitz | Beethe Associate Karla Thompson recently spoke with Geoff Williams, a journalist for U.S. News & World Report Money, about common mistakes consumers make when they file insurance claims.
In the article, Ms. Thompson discusses one of the chief errors that can lead to a claim being denied: talking to claims analysts on the phone. Mr. Williams writes:
If you’re a conversationalist and enjoy talking, be careful. Karla Baker Thompson is a Scottsdale, Arizona-based insurance attorney who specializes in representing professionals with disability insurance claims.
“Most people don’t realize how claims handlers are trained to ask loaded questions whenever they talk to policyholders, and to memorialize everything the claimant says in a written memo after the call,” Thompson says. “The questions might seem routine or mundane to the policyholder, but the answers they elicit can have serious consequences, including denial of the claim.”
Thompson offers the example of a claims handler asking what you’ve been doing that day.
“If you say you went out to pick up a prescription, you’re not just making small talk. You’ve just led that claims adjuster to believe – whether accurately or not – that you’re capable of leaving the house, getting in your car, driving, filling out paperwork, and possibly lifting and carrying bags,” Thompson says.
Maybe, Thompson adds, someone drove you to get that prescription, or maybe you did go out yourself but you came back and felt miserable afterward.
“If you’re just speaking off the cuff, you may not be giving the proper context to your answers,” she says. “Worse, you could say something inaccurate by mistake.”
Other examples in the article include assuming your insurance company is right and not getting the proper documentation to support your claim.
Check out the article in its entirety to learn more: Don’t Make These Mistakes When Filing an Insurance Claim.
Smartphones are getting smarter, and the desire for convenience and streamlined administration is at an all-time high. We have taken a look at how Skype doctors could potentially influence your medical treatment, but what if your smartphone could predict depression without the help of a medical professional? A new app claims to be able to identify people who are at a higher risk for depression.
The Purple Robot
The “Purple Robot” is an app in development at Northwestern University. While it isn’t available to the public yet, the app was able to identify 87% of participants who were determined to be at risk of depression. How? By tracking GPS data that showed how much users moved between their regular locations. The more users moved, the less likely they were to be considered at-risk.
The Purple Robot also could detect 74% of higher-risk participants by figuring out who used their phone the most for texting, playing games, and checking social media. Talking on the phone more frequently, on the other hand, was not indicative of a greater chance of depression. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough data, probably due to the small number of participants in the study, for researchers to determine the effectiveness of the app using both GPS and phone usage trends.
Pros and Cons?
Currently, this app only can tell you if you have an above-average chance of having depression and cannot diagnose it. While it certainly could help people to recognize if they need to see their doctor to discuss their potential depression, it could also potentially incorrectly identify you for being at risk. The test in the study used a low cutoff score, so it may have identified people for being at risk when they actually weren’t.
The Purple Robot is still in testing, and its developers at Northwestern University are planning on including more data, such as how long people talk on the phone and who they talk to, into the analysis. They are also encrypting the data, which provides some peace of mind for those who are concerned about data leaks.
Even if the app is changed to become more accurate, the GPS capabilities may be a turn-off for some people. Especially due to the hype surrounding multiple recent data hacks, having your GPS location at risk is definitely something to consider before using this app.
Since this app has not been revealed to the public, we don’t know quite what effect it would have on the disability insurance claims process. We do, however, recommend that you are cautious about the apps that you use that involve your health, especially if you think you may eventually have to file for disability.
We would also advise that you speak with your doctor if you think that you may be depressed. While these apps may assist you in realizing that you need to seek help, they aren’t yet able to substitute for diagnosis from a medical professional.
Dentists are particularly at risk for disability due to the strenuous nature of their job. Dentists are also some of the most likely to keep working through the pain–even if they shouldn’t be. Our new article in Dentaltown Magazine explores how working through chronic pain can affect dentists in their personal and professional lives. Read the full article at Dentaltown today.
Long hours at work are typical of doctors: there is no break in people getting sick or having physical issues. But what does working long hours do physically and mentally to doctors, and how can this affect your practice? The term “overwork” refers to the increasing risk that a worker will experience symptoms of fatigue and work stress, which can undermine productivity rates. We’re going to be taking a look at some of the statistics involved with professionals working long hours and then discuss how this can not only hinder productivity in your practice, but can also affect your body and, in some cases, how soon you need to file a disability insurance claim.
There numbers regarding the average work week for Americans, especially professionals such as doctors, show that most people expect to work extended hours. This is associated with the trend of “presenteeism” among doctors and dentists, which we have spent some time dissecting. In fact, many professionals now view the traditional 40-hour work week as a “part-time” job, and state that working those hours show laziness or a lack of desire to get ahead.
- In 2006, American families worked an average of 11 hours more per week than they did in 1979.
- 85.8% of males and 66.5% of women are working 40 or more hours per week. ((See American Average Work Hours at 20Something Finance))
- 37.9% of professional men worked over 50 hours a week between 2006 and 2008, which is an increase from 34%.
- The number of professional women working over 50 hours increased even more drastically, from 6.1% to 14.4% in the same time period. ((See Top-Level Professionals View 40-Hour Work Week as Part-Time at The Huffington Post))
- 52% of top income earners in America report working “extreme jobs,” which are those that require more than 60 hours a week. ((See Success Comes at a Steeper Price at ABC News))
Effects of Overwork ((See The Effects of Working Time on Productivity and Firm Performance))
Studies have shown that working longer hours leads to a decrease in productivity per hour. Any doctor that has worked more than 10 hours a day, as they often do, can attest that the 9th hour is much more difficult to get through than the first. The evidence shows that longer working hours have a negative effect on worker health due to fatigue and work stress, all of which further decrease labor productivity.
Workers with long hours are at a greater risk of health issues. For instance, those who perform repetitive tasks have an even greater chance of cumulative trauma disorder, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. This shouldn’t be shocking to medical professionals, as many of the disabilities that they suffer come from repetitive use injuries. An interesting way to think of the way your hours affect your work is to think of your body using a minimum amount of energy for posture and immunity, which has a great effect on back and neck pain. If you draw too much on this energy for work, your posture and immunity will suffer.
As another example, working extended hours can have a negative effect on mental health. We have also discussed how medical professionals are more susceptible to mental illness. Studies have shown that working long hours leads to increased stress, which can contribute to the already stressful situations doctors face every day.
What Does This Mean for You?
One positive finding regarding hours worked and productivity is that those who have the flexibility to schedule their own hours are not only happier but more productive. Even more striking is the fact that even if workers had to put in overtime, if they chose this overtime themselves instead of being asked to do it by a supervisor, they were much more productive and less fatigued.
This is certainly good news for those medical professionals that own their own business and are able to schedule their time as they see fit. However, doctors such as residents or those working within another professional’s practice may feel pressured to take on more hours, and are also constrained by other doctors’ schedules. For these reasons, it’s important for the medical and dental community as a whole to take a better approach regarding long hours. While we certainly don’t presume to know what is most appropriate in terms of streamlining care and administration, it certainly seems logical that doctors be encouraged to work fewer hours or have more freedom in scheduling the hours that they are going to work.
Let us know what you think about working long hours and whether you have schedule flexibility in the comments!
We’ve discussed the issues involved with “presenteeism” and how it can affect disability insurance claims, but it’s making waves in other news regarding healthcare workers and their patients. Healthcare workers are going to work sick, and while it is admirable to be dedicated to your job, it creates a huge risk to those with already compromised immune systems. Since healthcare workers are entrusted with the duty of caring for high risk patients, it’s important that we take care of our healthcare workers as well. However, that seems to not be the case, as in the medical field it is seen as weak to take days off, and sometimes taking more than two sick days is rewarded with an extra week of work for residents.
Here are some statistics that highlight this phenomenon:
95.3% of 504 physicians believed that working while sick put patients at risk. ((http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2344551))
83.1% of the 504, however, worked sick at least 1 time in the past year.
98.7% didn’t want to let colleagues down, and 64% feared being shunned by colleagues.
80% of a random sampling of 1,033 Norwegian physicians reported working even though they had symptoms that in a patient would be considered “sickness”. ((http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11355720/))
However, it’s imperative that we don’t blame healthcare workers, but instead society and its approach to doctors’ and dentists’ sickness as a whole. It doesn’t seem to make sense that we place such a heavy emphasis on coming to work no matter what when lives are at stake. While it would seem to be common knowledge that placing an already compromised immune system in jeopardy would be a bad idea, the medical community’s desire to work through diseases is contradictory to this, and perhaps it’s time to change the culture.
Physicians, what do you think about “presenteeism”, and how do you think we can change the culture surrounding it? Tell us in the comments.
Physicians and Dentists With Parkinson’s Disease: The Condition, Its Occupational Impact and Disability
Among the most devastating degenerative medical conditions is Parkinson’s disease, which currently affects 6.3 million people worldwide. While certain genetic conditions and environmental triggers may increase susceptibility to the disease, it is impossible to accurately predict who will develop it.
For healthcare professionals (physicians and dentists) diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the disease can be career-ending as symptoms become more severe. This post will provide a brief overview of Parkinson’s disease; explain the limitations the condition may create and how this could impact a professional career; and provide a solid base of information for anyone struggling with the prospect or process of filing a disability insurance claim.
Every year, there are approximately 60,000 new diagnoses of Parkinson’s disease, a condition affecting the nervous system, motor control, and brain chemistry. Recent improvements in treatments, including exciting therapies involving “reprogramming” skin cells to behave like stem cells, act as small steps toward a solution, but there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Sufferers often go undiagnosed for many years, and because of the progressive nature of the illness, it can cause a slow deterioration in ability to function normally in day-to-day life.
After the initial diagnosis and into early stages of Parkinson’s disease, symptoms may seem manageable and typically include fatigue, tremors, joint pain, and anxiousness.
As the disorder progresses, it is common to experience stiffness, lack of coordination, and slower movement. Everyday tasks such as getting dressed, shaving, writing, and brushing teeth can become strained, and there is a high susceptibility to falls and related injuries due to disturbed sense of balance.
Once Parkinson’s disease reaches advanced stages, affected individuals sometimes lose the ability to walk, speak, and properly care for themselves. Since Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the nervous system, it can result in chemical changes within the brain, causing individuals to experience symptoms involving disruption of mental clarity, altered judgment, anxiety, or depression. In effort to control challenging symptoms, sufferers often go through the frustrating experience of experimenting with new medications, which can also produce unpleasant side effects.
Medical Professionals Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease
It is understandably difficult to grasp the frustrating new limitations that go along with Parkinson’s disease, as symptoms sometimes come and go, progressing gradually over time. Doctors who have been diagnosed with the illness may be tempted to continue practicing as usual, despite their worsening symptoms. Unfortunately, the reality is that the slightest side effect, such as tremor or delayed reaction time could potentially have life-altering consequences for practitioners or their patients. Should a doctor be sued for medical malpractice post-diagnosis, a jury could be convinced that the doctor should not have been practicing due to the nature of the illness, regardless of whether or not it was a factor in the incident. The dichotomy between lifelong work ethic and patient safety is what makes Parkinson’s disease so devastating to physicians and dentists – considering the amount of time, energy, and money invested into a professional career, there is a reasonable hesitancy to take a step back.
When to File a Disability Insurance Claim
Early Parkinson’s disease symptoms mimic other more common ailments, often causing the condition to go undiagnosed for lengthy periods of time; furthering the problem, no one test is able to confirm a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Individuals undergoing the diagnosis process frequently experience a trial-and-error scenario, and symptom improvement with specific medications is often the litmus test for whether or not a person truly has the disease. These factors make it very difficult to determine when a disability insurance claim should be filed – when filed too soon, there may not be substantive proof of disability, but waiting too long could leave a practitioner exposed to liability.
A common mistake for sufferers of Parkinson’s disease is the attempt to modify work schedules and regular work duties with the progression of symptoms. Despite the fact that these measures are taken to avoid the risk of injury to the affected doctors or to their patients, the impact of this decision on future disability claims is substantial. A practitioner will typically perform fewer procedures, take on more management duties, and scale back hours over a period of time until working is no longer an option. The modification of one’s scope of practice and work hours can make it extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to collect future disability benefits, as insurance companies define a practitioner’s occupation (and ability to receive benefits) based on the work done at the time he or she becomes totally disabled. In short, this means that as one modifies his or her duties and hours, he or she is modifying both position and capability in the eyes of a disability insurance company to something less than that of a full time clinical practitioner. Keeping this in mind, it is best to explore the possibility of filing a total disability insurance claim as soon as possible after diagnosis, and it is prudent to speak with an attorney who is well-versed in filing disability claims.
Parkinson’s disease has had a personal impact on the lives of staff at Comitz Beethe, and we are no strangers to how difficult it can be to deal with long-term medical issues. Perhaps the most important step in accepting and understanding Parkinson’s disease is taking the time to get the help you need. Seek the support of family, friends, and professionals to help you cope with the changes ahead.
Additionally, understand that knowledge is power. Parkinson’s disease can have a major impact on finances, relationships, work, time, and various other aspects of daily life. Educating yourself about the future and what to expect, including when to file a disability insurance claim, will help you to feel more prepared and able to face challenges as they arise.
Comitz | Beethe disability insurance attorneys Edward O. Comitz and Patrick T. Stanley recently had their article “The Injured Physician: Is Your Work Ethic Hurting You and Your Patients?” published in the Winter 2013 edition of AzMedicine, the quarterly publication of the Arizona Medical Association.
In the article, Mr. Comitz and Mr. Stanley review some of the unintended consequences, both professional and personal, of a physician continuing to work through adversity, and the potential impact on his or her disability insurance coverage. For example, a physician who has modified his practice or work schedule in an effort to accommodate a disability may effectively change his occupational definition as it is defined in his “own occupation” disability insurance policy, making it difficult, if not impossible, to collect benefits when they are most needed.
The article also analyzes some of the pitfalls of “residual disability” or “partial disability” riders, such as the manner in which the insurer will determine the amount of benefits paid and differences in how long the insurance company is required to pay benefits.
The Arizona Medical Association periodically updates its website with recent editions of AzMedicine, or you may contact our office to obtain a copy of the full article and/or to speak with a disability insurance attorney.
Scottsdale attorney Edward O. Comitz was recently consulted by the popular financial website The Street regarding his thoughts on whether it’s a good financial decision to purchase an individual disability insurance policy. Based on the high premiums and his experience as an attorney who specializes in assisting sick or injured claimants with obtaining the individual disability insurance benefits to which they are entitled, Mr. Comitz advised that, with the exception of medical professionals such as dentists and surgeons – for whom even a minor injury can be career-ending – disability insurance is not a good investment unless you are also prepared to incur the costs of hiring an attorney if your claim is denied or terminated.
The full article can be read on The Street’s website here.
Pima County Medical Society Publishes Ed Comitz and Karla Thompson’s Article Re Surveillance in Disability Insurance Claims
The January 2013 edition of Sombrero, the publication of the Pima County Medical Society, features an article by Comitz | Beethe’s disability insurance attorneys, Edward O. Comitz and Karla Baker Thompson. The article, “Surveillance Misuse in Claims Investigations,” reviews some of the ways in which evolving technology has led to overly intrusive surveillance of claimants by insurance companies.
Among the surveillance techniques being utilized are stakeout operations, tailing (sometimes using a “decoy” investigator), pretexting (obtaining your personal information under false pretenses), and GPS and cell phone tracking. For example, some private investigators use a stingray, which is a cell phone tracking device that operates as a miniature cellular tower from inside of the PI’s vehicle. The device enables an investigator to connect to a claimant’s cell phone, even when it’s not in use, and, after taking measurements of the phone’s signal strength, triangulate its location. Since most people tend to carry their cell phones at all times, the device then allows the investigator to track the insured’s movements remotely.
The law surrounding some of these intrusive surveillance techniques, which have been made possible by modern technology, is not yet settled, and it is important that anyone on claim with their disability insurance carrier remain vigilant to the possibility of surveillance at all times, regardless of whether a human being is conducting the surveillance. Long gone are the days when surveillance was only conducted by someone with a camera sitting in a car outside an insured’s home.
Private investigators hired by disability insurance companies pretext to acquire your personal information from others. They do this by pretending to be someone else (often you), contacting people you know, and then probing them for your sensitive information. Pretexting is not only deceptive and unprincipled, but it may also be illegal. Private investigators engage in this conduct to produce evidence that will enable insurance companies to deny your disability insurance claim.
The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act specifically addresses pretexting as it pertains to obtaining personal information from financial institutions. Many private investigators believe the scope of the Act is limited to pretexting with financial institutions only, therefore, they assume other pretexts—those not involving contacts with your financial institution—are legal. This is a misconception, however, according to Joel Winston, the Associate Director of the FTC, Division of Financial Practices. In an interview with PI Magazine, Winston clarifies the scope of the Act:
First, we should dispel the misimpression, if there is one, that the pretexting provisions of [the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act] only apply if the pretexter is getting “financial information.” Actually, what the statute says is if you are getting any personal, non-public information from a financial institution or the consumer, that is covered by the statute.
(emphasis added). Winston also answers other questions about pretexting as they relate to private investigators. Although the Q-A session is mainly designed to illuminate private investigators of legal fences surrounding the practice of pretexting, it is also an excellent source of information for those who fear they might become victims of unlawful pretexts, or for people who want to learn more about the illegality of pretexting.
To view the article click here.
What is your most valuable financial asset? According to Chicago Tribune columnist, Gregory Karp, for most people “the answer isn’t in their golden eggs, but in the goose that laid them.” That is, their most valuable financial asset is not their car, house or retirement account, but their ability to make money.
When you suffer from long-term or short-term disability, you will likely be unable to continue working and, therefore, will lose your most valuable financial asset – your ability to earn money. For many Americans without disability insurance, this financial blow can be devastating.
For this reason, in his article entitled Disability Insurance Primer, Karp stresses the importance of long-term disability insurance and provides a basic overview of what disability insurance is, what it is not, and how to find an appropriate plan. The article is a good source for those seeking disability insurance or looking to change their current disability benefits plan.
Ed Comitz, disability insurance attorney in the greater Phoenix area, also provides answers to frequently asked disability insurance questions. For example, in his blog post, Disability Insurance Policies: Which type do you own?, Mr. Comitz describes fundamental differences between individual, group and employer-sponsored disability insurance policies. In another post, How to Get a Copy of Your Disability Insurance Policy, Mr. Comitz explains the process of obtaining a copy of your policy from the insurance company. Finally, in How Specific is Your “Own Occupation”?, Mr. Comitz provides understanding about key terms within your policy and how insurers may try to classify these terms in a way to deny your disability insurance claim.
May is Disability Insurance Awareness Month — A Good Time To Ask Yourself If You Can Collect on Your Disability Insurance Policy
May is Disability Insurance Awareness Month. While the insurance industry likes to increase awareness of purchasing disability insurance, medical professionals who long ago purchased disability insurance and have been paying premiums on disability policies for many years may opt to instead raise their awareness of the obstacles they are likely to encounter should they ever need to make a claim on their disability insurance policy. The article below by disability insurance attorney Edward O. Comitz provides some food for thought.
DISABILITY INSURANCE: CAN YOU COLLECT UNDER YOUR POLICY?
By: Edward O. Comitz, Esq.
You have practiced medicine for your entire career. Your spouse and children rely on you, and you have numerous financial obligations. The stress and trauma of a disability can cause you significant problems. To protect yourself in case of total or partial disability, you have purchased disability insurance.
Unfortunately, you suffer an injury or become so ill that you cannot continue your practice, and you then file a claim with your insurance agent. Of course, you expect it to be honored. Instead, shortly thereafter, you are contacted by an insurance adjuster, not your agent. Unlike your agent, the insurance adjuster is hostile; the questions he asks imply that you are malingering. You try to be cooperative, providing the insurance adjuster with the additional information he requests, but again your claim is denied. Adding insult to injury, you learn from the adjuster that the insurance company has secretly videotaped your activities and, based on the tapes, believes that you are not disabled at all. Dumbfounded by the insurance company’s response, you ask yourself if there is anything that you can do to make the insurance company pay the benefits it promised. The answer is yes.
Typically, the type of policy that medical and dental professionals purchase is what is known as an “own occupation policy.” Such policies provide compensation following a disability that prevents the insured (the person who purchased the policy) from performing the particular duties of his or her profession. Thus, the insured may be entitled to benefits even if he or she could in fact perform work of a different nature. For example, if a surgeon purchases an “own occupation policy” and severely injures his hand, but could nevertheless perform some or all of the duties of a general practitioner, the surgeon is considered disabled under an “own occupation policy” and entitled to benefits.
Disability provisions greatly vary in the language used, and coverage is often circumscribed and restricted by qualifying words and phrases. Accordingly, each policy of insurance must be individually reviewed to determine whether a particular claim is covered. What may appear to be an “own occupation policy” could in fact be an “occupational policy” if “total disability” is defined to include the insured’s inability to perform “all” duties or “every” duty pertaining to the insured’s occupation. In such a case, the insured may not be entitled to benefits if he or she can perform comparable employment for which the person is suited by education, experience and physical condition. Continue reading “May is Disability Insurance Awareness Month — A Good Time To Ask Yourself If You Can Collect on Your Disability Insurance Policy”