Unum’s CEO Gets a $750,000 Increase in Pay for an Annual Income of $12.2 million

While some disabled Unum insureds struggle to make ends meet while fighting unfair claim denials or termination of their benefits, the Times Free Press reports that Tom Watjen, the President and CEO of Unum, received a pay increase of $750,000.00 in 2011 — for a total annual income of $12.2 million — in reward for “delivering strong results in a difficult environment,” according to Unum’s compensation committee.

Watjen receives a base salary of $1.1 million, with the remaining $11.1 million tied to performance-related cash and stock incentives.  In 2011, Unum had after-tax earnings of $887.6 million, an 11% return on equity, and $10.2 billion in revenue.


Even Unum CEO Admits Their Insurance Policy Language Is Confusing

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.

Timing Is Everything: When to Discuss Your Potential Claim with a Physician

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.

AzMedicine publishes “Can Your Disability Insurer Dictate the Terms of Your Care?” article by Ed Comitz and Michael Vincent

Disability insurance attorney Edward O. Comitz and Michael Vincent, Summer Associate at Comitz | Beethe, had their article Can Your Disability Insurer Dictate the Terms of Your Care? published in the Winter edition of AzMedicine, the publication of the Arizona Medical Association.  The article is excerpted below.

Can Your Disability Insurer Dictate the Terms of Your Care?

By Edward O. Comitz, Esq. and Michael Vincent

           Imagine that you are a surgeon who has submitted a disability insurance claim after failed cataract surgery left you with halos, starbursts, and even temporary blindness under bright lighting. While you are dedicated to your profession, you realize that continuing to operate on patients puts them in danger.  Your disability insurance company, however, will not pay your claim.  It insists that you can keep performing surgeries, alleviating any occupational hazards by wearing sunglasses and using matte-finish instruments in the operating room.  This scenario may sound absurd, but it is an actual example of some of the difficulties faced by many doctors seeking legitimate policy benefits.  Fortunately, the surgeon in question had the common sense to cease performing surgeries rather than follow her insurer’s suggestions.  Her decision did affect her financially, as benefits were denied for almost two years, and only paid after litigation ensued.

Insurance company treatment mandates are commonplace and based on their interpretation of the terms of your policy.  In some cases, the insurance company goes so far as to demand surgery, invading your privacy and leaving you with the choice of either undergoing an operation involuntarily, bearing all of the medical risks and financial costs yourself, or waiving your right to collect disability insurance benefits.  The decision can be difficult, but understanding your rights and obligations beforehand can help alleviate much of the worry.

Whether or not insurers can legally condition payment of your disability insurance benefits upon you following their suggested treatments depends on the specific terms in your policy.  The various policy types fall into three general categories: “regular care” policies, “appropriate care” policies, and “most appropriate care” policies.

The oldest policies typically contain provisions conditioning benefits on being “under the regular care and attendance of a physician.”  These “regular care” policies provide the most protection for insureds, as courts have repeatedly found that these provisions only create a duty for the insured to undergo regular monitoring by a physician to determine if the disability persists.  Even if a proposed surgery is usually successful and very low risk, an insurance company cannot force it upon you.  Under a policy requiring only regular care, courts will not enforce any particular course of treatment, no matter how vehemently an insurance company objects. Continue reading “AzMedicine publishes “Can Your Disability Insurer Dictate the Terms of Your Care?” article by Ed Comitz and Michael Vincent”

TSA to Launch Disability Hotline
in January for Airline Passengers

In the wake of a number of complaints from passengers with disabilities, the Transportation Security Administration is planning to launch a toll free disability hotline in January so that passengers with disabilities can call in advance if they anticipate needing extra assistance during security screening.  In recent months, there have been numerous complaints, many from elderly women, alleging that TSA agents subjected them to strip searches because they were unfamiliar with the specialized medical devices the women were wearing.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. and New York State Senator Michael Gianaris made a request in a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security and TSA officials for passenger advocates to be trained and familiarized with various medical conditions and medical devices so that they can provide “alternative methods for addressing the needs and concerns of elderly, disabled and other vulnerable passengers.”

Senator Schumer further said:

While the safety and security of our flights must be a top priority, we need to make sure that flying does not become a fear-inducing, degrading and potentially humiliating experience.  Right now, passengers who feel that their rights are about to be violated have nowhere to turn, but by training passenger advocates at each of our airports, the TSA can finally give passengers a voice.

TSA has not commented on the proposal but issued a statement reminding the public that customer service representatives are available at most airports.   The TSA currently offers Tips for the Screening Process on its website as well as other more detailed information, and we will be reviewing some of the other regulations for passengers with disabilities in subsequent blog posts.

UPDATE:  The TSA Cares hotline designed to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions has now been launched.    It is recommended that those traveling with special medical needs contact the hotline at least 72 hours in advance of their arrival at the airport with questions about screening policies, procedures and to coordinate getting through the security checkpoints.   The TSA Cares toll-free hotline number is 1-855-787-2227, and its hours of operation are Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 EST, excluding federal holidays.

Dealing with a New Disability

A recent article by Pamela Poole in the Huffington Post offers a sensitive look at the challenges faced when a person becomes disabled.  The adjustments to be made, both by the person with the disability and by his or her friends and family, extend beyond the physical.   Ms. Poole summarizes the first ten months of her own sudden disability thusly:

denial denial indignation fear anger anger denial

anger depression depression medication

Poole chronicles not only her own struggle to accept the changes her disability made in her life, but the obstacles she faced in making her friends and family understand the new limitations on her abilities and endurance.  Ms. Poole’s article and references to books and articles she found helpful are available at this link.

The physical and emotional impacts of a disability are difficult enough.  If your disability insurance company is giving you the runaround, it can be helpful to have an experienced disability insurance attorney advocating on your behalf and guiding you through the claim process.

Oregon Voters with Disabilities Test Out iPad Voting in November Election

Federal law requires election officials to make voting equipment available to ensure that people with disabilities have access to participation in the voting process.  In the State of Oregon, where voting is done only by postal voting and ballots dropped into electoral boxes, voting can present special challenges to residents who have difficulty voting through the traditional mail-in voting method.  Therefore, Apple donated five iPad tablets for use in a special trial, in conjunction with software developed by the State of Oregon, to test a new method for voters with disabilities using a “sip and puff” device attached to an iPad via Bluetooth.

The “sip and puff” device is most commonly used by persons without use of their hands to control electric wheelchairs by inhaling or exhaling through a tube or wand.  In the trial conducted in the Oregon special election, participants were able to navigate the electoral forms, scroll through screens, adjust font size and color, and choose candidates, all hands-free.  The iPad then reads back the choices to them for verification.

Oregon state officials will conduct further trials of the system, and, if successful, the new system may be used nationally in future elections to enhance the accessibility and privacy of all voters, including those with disabilities.

Disability Insurance Law Firm Comitz | Beethe an Exhibitor at Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association’s
Fall Seminar in Tucson

Comitz | Beethe, disability insurance attorneys with offices in Scottsdale, Tucson and Flagstaff, are proud to be exhibitors at the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association’s 31st Annual Fall Seminar this weekend, November 12 – 13, 2011, at the Omni Tucson National in Tucson, Arizona. Osteopaths attending the Fall Seminar should feel free to stop by our exhibitor table on Saturday, where we will have an attorney available to speak with you, as well as informative articles and handouts available regarding the challenges presented to physicians when filing a disability claim and mistakes to avoid.

Information about the firm and our other practice areas will also be available.  The exhibitor hall will be open before breakfast, with doors opening at 6:30 a.m. until noon.  Comitz | Beethe is a Business Affiliate of the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association.   Further information about registering to attend the Fall Seminar is available at the AOMA’s website.  We hope to see you there!

The disability insurance attorneys at Comitz | Beethe provide legal representation to protect the disability benefits of medical and dental professionals nationwide and throughout metropolitan Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson, Flagstaff, Sedona, Lake Havasu City, Prescott, and Yuma. We provide disability income claim advice, assistance with filing disability claims, including completion of disability claim forms and representation in disability insurance litigation.

How to Get a Copy of Your Disability Insurance Policy

Many of the questions surrounding a disability insurance claim depend on the language in your policy.  Thus, the first step to a successful claim is getting a copy of that policy.  Though it is always important to keep a copy of your disability insurance policy and any related documents, sometimes policyholders forget to do so, they lose the document, or the papers become accidentally damaged.

The simplest way to get a copy of your policy is to call or send a letter to your insurance company directly.  You can search for your disability insurer’s phone number and address on the Arizona Department of Insurance website.  The insurer may require you to pay a minor fee, but they will send you a copy.

Once you receive your copy, check to make sure it is actually yours and that no pages are missing or damaged.  If you have questions about the provisions in the policy or filing a claim, you can bring your copy to a disability insurance attorney who can help interpret it and guide you through the claims process.

What is a Reservation of Rights?

When a disability insurance company is fighting a claim, it will often agree to pay benefits – but with a “reservation of rights.” What is a reservation of rights and how can it impact a legitimate disability claim?

When an insurer pays a claim under a reservation of rights, it is essentially providing a provisional payment.  Though the insurance company may be sending you a check, it is not admitting that it actually has any liability under the policy.  Instead, it is “reserving the right” to stop paying your claim if it can find evidence to deny it later.  Once the company denies your claim, they can also demand you to repay them whatever proceeds they have distributed to you.

This practice is good for the insurance company, as it buys it extra time to investigate – and often later deny – a claim without putting it at risk of violating the laws against undue delay in payment.  However, because the insurance company can still investigate the claim and then demand full repayment at any moment, the reservation of rights provides no peace of mind for the policyholder.  Fortunately, a disability insurance attorney can protect you from this uncertainty by properly presenting your claim and thoroughly monitoring the insurance company’s actions to reach a beneficial result.

Great Disability Insurance Cases of the 19th Century:
Young v. Travelers’ Insurance Co.

Continuing with our series of great 19th century disability insurance cases, another classic case is Young v. Travelers’ Insurance Co., 13 A. 896 (Me. 1888), one of many cases from that time period addressing the definition of “total disability.” The insured, a “billiard-saloon keeper,” had a policy conditioning benefits upon being “wholly [disabled] and [prevented] from the prosecution of any and every kind of business pertaining to [his] occupation.” The insured became disabled and was able to perform some of his necessary occupational duties, but was incapable of performing many of the required material duties.

The court analogized the insured’s situation to that of a barber: “Suppose a barber who can use his razor and shears in his right hand only, but can use his left to wipe his customer’s face, comb and dress his hair, and receive pay and make change, by an accident is wholly deprived of the use of his right hand, so that he can neither shave his customer nor cut his hair; can it be said that he is not wholly disabled from the prosecution of his business as a barber? An accident policy which would not afford indemnity in such a case would be a delusion and a snare.”

The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine held that though the insured could perform some of his occupational duties, his inability to perform the business of his occupation meant that he was disabled within the meaning of the policy.

Modern disability insurance policies often speak of “substantial and material duties” of the insured’s occupation. Though the language is different, the idea is similar. Under this language, the insured is eligible for benefits if unable to perform the substantial and material duties of his occupation—though an insurer will often claim otherwise. However, not all policies use this definition of total disability. Some require that the insured be unable to perform any of his occupational duties, a much tougher standard. Insureds considering filing a claim should consult a disability insurance attorney to learn about their rights.

Department of Justice Publishes
New Regulations on Service Animals

The U.S. Department of Justice has recently posted new regulations on service animals. The Department’s fact sheet summarizes these regulations. Generally, persons with disabilities are permitted to have an accompanying service animal in all businesses and in all facilities where the public is normally allowed to go. Staff may only inquire into whether the dog is required because of a disability, and what work or task the dog performs. They may not ask about the person’s disability or require any documentation.

The regulations also for the first time address the use of miniature horses as service animals. Businesses must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable, with four factors used to determine if the horses can be accommodated in a facility: (1) whether the miniature horse is housebroken; (2) whether the miniature horse is under the owner’s control; (3) whether the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight; and (4) whether the miniature horse’s presence will not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility.

ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Service Animals

Delaware Becomes First State to Launch a Voluntary Statewide Registry to Assist Persons with Disabilities During an Emergency

People with disabilities in the State of Delaware are now able to sign up with a voluntary registry to assist emergency responders in meeting their special needs in an emergency.   Although some counties throughout the nation have previously implemented similar registries, Delaware is the first to launch a statewide database.  The Emergency Preparedness Voluntary Registry is linked to a secure database that is tied to the state’s 911 system, and the information in the database is immediately available to 911 dispatchers.  The registry can be used to help first responders locate people within the home who are confined to a bed or unable to move without assistance.  In addition, Delaware citizens can share information on those who are hearing-impaired, blind or visually-impaired, speech-impaired, oxygen-dependent, or have other special conditions such as epilepsy, cardiac problems, Alzheimers, and autism.

Having this information regarding a person’s disabilities available to them before arriving at the scene of an emergency is very valuable to paramedics, firefighters and police.  In addition to being of assistance to first responders, local and state emergency planners will utilize the information to plan for state and local and emergencies to help them better serve the disabled community in the event of snow, floods, fires, tornadoes or acts of terrorism.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell provides further information about the registry in the video below.

To enter information about Delaware residents with disabilities into the registry, visit http://www.de911assist.delaware.gov

Tucson, Arizona Tragedy Brings Disability Etiquette Into Spotlight

In the wake of the recent shootings in Tucson, Arizona and with the nation following the recovery of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords from serious brain injuries, neurologist Richard C. Senelick has taken the opportunity to write an article for the Huffington Post to help educate the public about interacting with people with disabilities.   Although some of the pointers Dr. Senelick gives are common sense (treat the person as an adult), some of his tips are useful for situations less frequently encountered (such as how and whether to shake the hand of a person with a paralyzed, missing, or prosthetic right arm).

Dr. Senelick’s article is available in full at this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-c-senelick-md/disability-etiquette_b_814887.html

Statement by President Obama on the 35th Anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Today, the 35th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), President Obama released the following statement:

In America, we believe that every child, regardless of class, color, creed, or ability, deserves access to a world-class education.  But as recently as thirty-five years ago, an American child with a disability might have attended school without the interventions and accommodations necessary for their success; or been involuntarily isolated in a state-run institution; or even received no education at all.

That was wrong – and America set out to right it.  Today, across the United States, nearly 6.6 million students with disabilities rely on the provisions of the landmark Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to ensure that they enjoy the same educational rights as all children.

And as we mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of that law, we remember what it was all about.  Equal opportunity.  Equal access.  Not dependence, but independence.  We know that our education system must hold children with disabilities to the same high standards as those without disabilities, and hold them accountable for their success and their growth.  We remember that disability rights are civil rights, too – and pledge to enforce those rights in order to live up to our founding principles and ensure the promise of opportunity for all our people.  And even as we celebrate children with disabilities and their parents, teachers, advocates, and all who still strive to tear down the true barriers to success – even as we celebrate how far we’ve come – we commit ourselves to the ever-unfinished work of forming that more perfect union.