You spent years in school and invested countless hours to establish and maintain your practice. You even protected this investment by purchasing a disability policy. Yet, if you do become disabled and make a claim, your insurer might still make the argument that you are only trying to retire and get paid for it. Unfortunately, disability insurance claims by doctors and other healthcare professionals are especially targeted for denial or termination.
When you are disabled and are no longer able to practice in your profession, it may seem logical to simply refer to yourself as “retired,” especially if you are not working in another capacity. While it’s certainly understandable that you may not want to explain to everyone who asks why you’ve hung up your lab coat, you need to keep in mind that innocently referring to yourself as retired will likely prompt your insurer to subject your claim to higher scrutiny. Insurance companies often attempt to take statements out of context in order to deny or terminate benefits by alleging that a legitimately disabled claimant is:
- Making a lifestyle choice.
- Unmotivated by or unsatisfied with work.
- Embracing the sick role.
Remember, in the insurance company’s mind, there is a big difference between “disabled” and “retired.” Below are some common situations where you should avoid referring to yourself as retired:
- When asked for your profession on claim forms.
- When talking to your doctors or filling out medical paperwork.
- On your taxes, other financial forms, and applications.
- Around the office.
- At social functions or gatherings.
- On social media.
Insurers can—and often do—employ private investigators to follow claimants on social media; interview staff, family, or acquaintances; and track down “paper trail” documents (such as professional license renewal forms, loan applications, etc.) to see if you have made any statements that could be construed as inconsistent with your disability claim. Insurers also routinely request medical records and may even contact your doctor(s) directly regarding your disability. So, for example, saying something off-hand or even jokingly, such as “I’m retired—I can stay out as late as I want now!” to your doctor, or at a social event like a block party, could lead to your insurer trying to deny your claim if they later spoke to your doctor or your neighbor.
While the focus of your claim should be on your condition and how it prevents you from working, insurance companies can latch on to innocent statements like this in an effort to deny legitimate claims. Eschewing the word “retirement” is a good and easy first step to help avoid unwanted and unwarranted scrutiny from insurers.
In past posts, we have discussed Unum’s track record of wrongfully denying disability claims and Unum’s bad faith efforts to avoid paying legitimate claims. Unum was again in the news last year when it made significant changes within the upper echelons of company management. Unum is now making headlines again, due to speculation that it is in the process of outsourcing hundreds of jobs overseas.
Unum is apparently currently in talks with several information technology (IT) firms to outsource up to 350 jobs to India. A Unum employee, who spoke to the Portland Press Herald on the condition of anonymity, told the newspaper that as many as 200 jobs could be cut at Unum’s Portland, Maine offices, and estimated that the cuts could affect up to 350 jobs company-wide. The employee reported that Unum was meeting with several vendors to discuss different levels of sourcing. Florida attorney Sara Blackwell, who operates the website ProtectUSWorkers.com, claims that Unum has met with Cognizant and HCL – two multinational IT consulting firms – to discuss the potential move. In an interview with the Times Free Press, Ms. Blackwell expressed concerns that policyholders’ personal medical information may be compromised by outsourcing to countries that don’t have strict provisions such as HIPAA to protect the medical records of policyholders.
It will be interesting to see if Unum’s outsourcing efforts end with its IT department, or whether this is the first step towards Unum outsourcing positions that play key roles in the disability claims process, such as claims managers and in-house medical consultants.
In Part 1 of this post, we discussed “stingrays”—a relatively new technology that is becoming more and more common. In Part 2, we will be discussing another new technology that is becoming increasingly prevalent as a surveillance tool—drones.
What is a “Drone”?
The term “drone” is a broad term that refers to aircrafts that are not manned by a human pilot. Some drones are controlled by an operator on the ground using remote control. Other drones are controlled by on-board computers and do not require a human operator. Drones were initially developed primarily for military use. Recently, drones have also been utilized for a wide range of non-military uses, such as aerial surveying, filmmaking, law enforcement, search and rescue, commercial surveillance, scientific research, surveying, disaster relief, archaeology, and hobby and recreational use.
How Does Drone Surveillance Work?
Typically, drones are connected to some type of control system using a data link and a wireless connection. Drones can be outfitted with a wide variety of surveillance tools, including live video, infrared, and heat-sensing cameras. Drones can also contain Wi-Fi sensors or cell tower simulators (aka “stingrays”) that can be used to track locations of cell phones. Drones can even contain wireless devices capable of delivering spyware to a phone or computers.
Over the past few years, several new methods of surveillance have been developed. These new technologies create a high risk of abuse, and as they become more and more commonplace and affordable, that risk will only increase. Unfortunately, in the area of surveillance, the law has not always been able to keep up with the pace of technology. In many respects, the rules regarding the use of new surveillance technologies remain unclear. Consequently, the most effective way to guard against intrusions of privacy is to be aware of the expanding abilities of existing technology, because you never know when someone could be conducting surveillance.
ACLU Website: https://theyarewatching.org/technology/drones.
In previous posts, we have discussed how insurance companies will hire private investigators to conduct surveillance on disability claimants. In the next two posts, we will be discussing some modern surveillance technologies that most people are not very familiar with – “stingrays” and drones.
What is a “Stingray”?
A “stingray” is a cell site simulator that can be used to track the location of wireless phones, tablets, and computers—basically anything that uses a cell phone network.
How Does Stingray Surveillance Work?
A “stingray” imitates cell towers and picks up on unique signals sent out by individuals attempting to use the cell phone network. The unique signal sent out is sometimes referred to as an International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) and it consists of a 12 to 15 digit number.
Once the “stingray” connects to a device’s signal, it can collect information stored on the device. Usually the information collected is locational data, which is then used to track the movement of individual carrying the device.
Additionally, some “stingray” devices can intercept and extract usage information, such as call records, text messages, and Internet search history, from devices it connects to. Some “stingrays” are even able to intercept phone call conversations and deliver malicious software to personal devices.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will discuss drone surveillance.
ACLU Website: https://theyarewatching.org/technology/stingray.
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.