The Phoenix disability insurance law firm of Comitz | Beethe is a Business Partner of the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association and will be an exhibitor next week at the 90th Annual AOMA Convention at the Hilton in Scottsdale, Arizona. We invite all osteopath physicians attending the convention to stop by our table — Exhibitor Booth #79 near the breakfast buffet tables — to say hello and pick up informational packets about our firm and Arizona disability insurance practice.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently created a public online database containing state-by-state, disability-specific information. Named the “Disability and Health Data System,” the CDC says that the database can help individuals “better identify health and wellness opportunities for people with disabilities by allowing users to compare over 70 different health measures, as well as data on psychological distress and disability-associated health care expenditures.” For instance, users can access an interactive map with tables showing how often arthritis causes a work limitation for adults in each state.
If you are facing a disability or simply want more information about disabling conditions, the database can be a helpful source of information.
As we have blogged many times, even seemingly straightforward terms like “total disability” or “appropriate medical treatment” in your disability insurance policy may have different meanings in the context of a disability insurance claim than they do in everyday English. In a video posted on YouTube, Jack McGarry, CEO, Unum UK, is surprisingly candid in addressing how their insurance policy language is confusing.
Insurance is so confusing, in large part because we’ve made it that way, the insurance companies. We use acronyms instead of words, we use lingo instead of language. We’ve made it easy for us to communicate with each other, but we’ve made it very, very difficult for consumers to understand what we’re saying, and we need to change that.
[Consumers] are confused by our products, they don’t understand the choices, they don’t understand the coverage, and one of the reasons they don’t understand it is because the language we use to describe it, they find it confusing, and a little scary, so we’re partnering with Plain English to help simply the language we use to describe what we do so everybody can understand it.
While Unum is apparently taking steps to clarify the language in its policies in the United Kingdom, it is of little help to American insureds who purchased policies written in language that is, in the words of Unum’s UK CEO, ”very, very difficult for consumers to understand.” The help of an experienced disability insurance attorney to interpret the language of your policy can be critical in ensuring you receive the benefits to which you are entitled.
A recent article by health insurance writer Allison Bell explains, from an insurance industry perspective, why the new administrative demands on health care professionals might lead to an increase in doctors facing disability:
[I]t seems reasonable to ask whether, for example, the new pressure to convert to electronic health records will lead to some physicians at small or understaffed practices to develop carpal tunnel syndrome and blurry vision from trying to enter, or at least, check, many of the records themselves. Will sleep deprivation related to an increase in workload cause or aggravate objective conditions, such as lack of exercise, obesity and high blood pressure, that will, in turn, lead to an increase in the number of doctors with disability insurance who suffer heart attacks. strokes and disabling car accidents?
Healthcare professionals: Do you think the push for electronic health records and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will lead to an increase in disabled doctors?
When it comes to disability insurance, your treating physician’s support can be critical to getting your legitimate claim approved. If your doctor can’t provide adequate documentation of your condition or is reluctant to get involved, there is a much higher chance that your claim will be denied. However, fully discussing your condition with a professional, compassionate treating physician will help ensure supportive medical records. When you are involved in a disability insurance claim, it is important to understand how to approach your treating doctor so that he or she can help you.
When to discuss your potential claim with a physician is an important timing issue. Instead of trying to enlist your doctor’s help at the very first visit, you should wait to talk to your treating physician until after he or she knows you and your condition well enough to opine accurately as to your ability to work. It is vital that you develop a relationship of trust and confidence with your doctor before inviting him or her to assist you in your claim. hysicians are often reluctant to support claims for benefits if they question the motivations behind the claims. A physician who has treated, without success, the policyholder making a legitimate disability claim will be more willing to cooperate with the extensive process.
Even though disability insurance companies have a duty under Arizona law to give your interests equal consideration to their own, insurers rarely act for the policyholder’s benefit. Claims benefit managers are frequently taught how to approach disability claimants to get a desired result, usually a denial or termination of benefits. From our years of experience with the disability insurance industry, we have learned some of the tactics claims personnel use. The following is a list of strategies to beware of. Though not every disability claim manager engages in these practices, it is always a good idea for claimants to be vigilant in order to protect their rights under their policy.
- Treating claims like a unit of production. Disability insurance companies often don’t care to know how being disabled and filing for benefits affects you personally. Don’t expect that they will understand or be sympathetic to the personal toll the entire process takes on a claimant, especially a doctor or dentist who has spent years in study and practice to achieve professional success. To disability insurers, each claim is a unit of production being channeled towards an end goal.
- Misinterpreting policy provisions. Disability insurance claims managers are not lawyers, and just like most people, often have trouble properly interpreting complicated insurance policies. For example, claims personnel might inform an insured that her claim is an “any occupation” policy when in fact it is an “own occupation” policy.
- Claiming rights that don’t exist under the policy. Claims managers will also frequently indicate that the disability insurance company can make claimants do certain things or provide certain information that is not actually required under the individual policy. For instance, an insurer might tell a claimant he needs to complete a detailed daily activity report, when there is actually no such requirement to do so in his policy. Make sure you know what your policy does and does not actually allow.
- Acting like your friend. Employees of disability insurance companies often try to act like your friend or partner in the process, when they are actually channeling your claim towards denial or termination of benefits. Often, claims managers will call an insured for a friendly chat, all the while peppering the insured with seemingly innocuous questions meant to provide evidence for claim denial. Policyholders should understand the questions being asked, and not get distracted by the congeniality of the caller.
- Sending “field investigators” to talk about your claim. Another common practice in the disability insurance industry is to schedule an in-person interview in the claimant’s home with a “field investigator.” These interviewers will spend hours asking about your symptoms and activities in excruciating detail, taking copious notes and even asking to photograph you. What they may not make clear is that the field investigator has no authority over the disposition of your claim. Rather, he or she is a private investigator hired by your insurance company to gather evidence against your claim and provide a starting point for surveillance.
The best way to make sure that these claims management practices aren’t used to take advantage of you when making a claim for disability benefits is to enlist an attorney who knows the tactics used and how to guard against them. Nevertheless, every insured should understand their insurance company’s approach to claims management and be cautious in their interactions with claims management personnel.
On October 8, 2010, President Obama signed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (“CVAA”), described by the Federal Communications Commission as the “most significant piece of accessibility legislation since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.” The intent of the CVAA is to bring existing communications laws up to date to ensure that persons with disabilities are able to share fully in the benefits of broadband communications and other 21st century communications technologies.
This month, the FCC issued three Notices of Proposed Rulemaking to help implement the CVAA and ensure that persons with disabilities can fully enjoy the conveniences of such modern technologies as wireless handsets, Internet access, e-mailing, text messaging, video conversations.
If you are interested in reading the full text of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, the CVAA and its history are available at this link: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-3304