How Do I Know if My Insurer Might Be Interested in a Lump Sum Settlement?

We are often asked whether a particular claim is the type of claim that an insurance company would be interested in settling for a lump sum buyout.  The answer, as explained in more detail below, is always, it depends, because there are a number of factors that come into play, and many of those factors are not even directly related to whether the claim itself is legitimate or whether the insured’s condition is permanent (although those are important factors that impact whether a buyout is a possibility).

What is a Lump Sum Buyout?

You may be familiar with the terms of your disability policy, but you may not know that, in certain instances, insurers are willing to enter a lump sum settlement. Under a lump sum settlement, your insurer agrees to buy out your policy and, in return, you agree to surrender the policy and release the insurer from any further obligations to you going forward.

There are certain pros and cons to this sort of settlement.  Some claimants prefer a lump sum settlement, because it allows them to avoid having to rely on month-to-month payments from their insurer (which may or may not arrive, or if they do arrive, may not arrive on time) and/or to avoid the hassle of dealing with claim forms, medical exams, etc. for years to come.  A lump sum settlement can also allow you to take advantage of present investment opportunities that can provide for your and your family’s future.  But there are also other considerations that you will need to discuss with your attorney as well as your accountant and other financial advisors.  For example, if your benefit period lasts to age 65 (and you end up living to the end of the benefit period), you would likely receive more money cumulatively over time if you stayed on claim and received monthly benefits in lieu of a lump sum settlement.

Lump sum settlements can also be attractive to insurance companies.  A settlement can allow insurance companies to release money from their reserves and to eliminate administrative expenses associated with the ongoing review of your claim year after year. But just as you might receive more money cumulatively over time if you stayed on the claim, the insurer might benefit financially from not offering you a lump sum settlement. For example, if your policy provided for lifetime benefits, and you met an untimely demise, your insurance company’s obligation to pay benefits would cease, and they may end up ultimately paying out a lower amount in total monthly benefits than they would have if they paid out a lump sum settlement on your claim.

Because this process is completely discretionary on their part, insurance companies are very deliberate about offering lump sum settlements. Before doing so, they must weigh multiple factors including the following:

    • Permanency. The insurer is more likely to offer a settlement if its actuaries determine that you will likely be on claim for the maximum benefit period.
    • Reserves. Over the course of your claim, your claim’s reserves slowly peak as you are on claim for an extended period of time (and permanency is established) and then at some point, they start to diminish as the claim is paid out, and you get closer and closer to the end of the maximum benefit period. The insurer is more likely to offer a settlement when the reserves are at their peak (typically around 3-5 years into a claim), because that is when the insurance company would improve its bottom line the most by freeing up the reserves.
    • Mortality/Morbidity Issues. The insurer is more likely to offer a settlement if its actuaries determine that you will probably live to the end of the maximum benefit period. Or if you have lifetime benefits, the insurer will estimate your lifespan based on your health history to determine whether it is financially beneficial for the company to offer a lump sum settlement.
    • Offsets. The insurer is more likely to offer a settlement if it determines that you will probably not receive income in the future that would offset the benefit amount before the end of the maximum benefit period.
    • Anticipated Gain. Companies will not offer a buyout unless they stand to save money in the long run, so they have their actuaries calculate how much of a gain (percentage-wise) the company would net if they settle the claim. Insurers often have internal financial objectives that impact the amount they are willing to offer on settlements such as requiring a net gain amount of a certain percentage (e.g. 35%).
    • Cash Outflow. The insurer will be more or less willing to offer a settlement depending on their quarterly or even annual cash outflows. Thus, if a company had paid out a lot of buyouts recently, the company may not have enough cash available to offer additional lump sum settlements.

The bottom line is that offering a lump sum settlement is completely voluntary on the part of the insurer and doing so depends on the unique factual circumstances of your claim. Nevertheless, knowing the factors that insurers consider in making this decision can help you understand whether a lump sum settlement is appropriate in your case.

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The Importance of Reviewing Your Policy Application

In our last post we discussed why you should not rely solely on your agent’s representations when purchasing a new disability policy. It is similarly important that you not rely solely on your agent to complete the policy application.

While an agent may offer to help you by filling out the application, this could end up negatively impacting a future claim or even voiding your policy down the road, if the application contains any errors or omissions.  As explained in our prior posts, while it may seem like telephone interviewers, licensed representatives, agents, and medical examiners have significant control over the application process and whether you receive a policy, many applications have language that explicitly limits your ability to rely upon representations made by such individuals, and expressly places the burden of reviewing the application for accuracy upon you (regardless of who completed the application).  Below is a sample of policy language:

 

Thus, you may speak with several people during the application process, and give them the requested information, but it is ultimately up to you to make sure the information provided to the insurance company is correct.  It is therefore very important that you read through your application carefully to make sure it is complete and accurate before signing.

It is also very important that you carefully review your policy when you receive it from the insurance company, and not just file it away without a second thought.  When you receive your copy of the full policy, it will typically contain language stating that you have a certain time period (e.g. 10 or 30 days) to review the policy and return it to be voided if it does not contain the terms you expected.  This clause will normally be found on the first page of the policy, and typically looks something like this:

If you decide to keep your policy and do not send it back within this review period, you are bound by all provisions of the policy, regardless of whether you are actually aware of them or not.  For instance, if you asked your agent for a certain provision and/or requested it on your application, but the insurance company omits it for some reason, and you don’t catch it during this review period, you may end up paying years of premiums for coverage that is different than what you thought you had purchased.  Similarly, if your policy contains an unfavorable provision that you didn’t know was going to be in the policy, you will still be bound by it unless you return the policy.

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How Insurance Companies Distance Themselves from Agents (And Why It Matters)

Reading through contracts, especially lengthy insurance ones, can be time consuming. Many policies contain confusing language, terms of art, and often include supplemental riders that change the terms or definitions contained in the main body of the policy.  But if you don’t read your policy until it’s time for you to file a claim, you may be caught off-guard by what your policy actually says.  This next series of posts will discuss the importance of taking the time to read through your policy, and will review some things to watch out for when you buy a disability insurance policy.

Dentists and physicians are often swamped with work, and rely heavily on insurance agents when selecting and purchasing a policy.  One scenario we commonly see is doctors requesting a policy that is “the same” policy that the other doctors in the practice have. Another common scenario is the doctor who wants more coverage and just asks his or her agent for another policy that is “like” his or her existing policy, or has the “same coverage” as his or her existing policy.  What they don’t realize is that some of the same favorable terms may no longer be available in today’s policies.  For example, while most older policies contained “true own occupation” provisions, there are now several different variations of “own occupation” provisions, so if you just ask for an “own occupation” policy, you may not actually be receiving the coverage that you think you are.

It is also important to be aware that, over the years, insurers have sought to distance themselves from agents and now often go so far as to include clauses or statements in their policies and applications that state no agent or broker has the authority to determine insurability or make, change, or discharge any contract requirement.  Here’s an example of this type of policy language:

So what does this mean?  It means that, while solely relying upon an agent’s assurance of the terms of a policy may have been a more acceptable (but not advisable) option in the past (when policies were often similar and generally favorable to policyholders), you can no longer solely rely upon your agent’s description of the policy.  No matter how well-meaning or knowledgeable your agent may seem, ultimately, you are going to be on the hook if your policy doesn’t say what you thought it said, so it is crucial that you carefully review your disability policy to ensure you are receiving sufficient coverage.

Our next post will discuss the importance of the application process and policy review period.

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“Transitional Own Occupation” Provisions

In prior posts, we’ve talked before about how an individual disability policy with a true “own occupation” provision is ideal.   Under this type of provision, you are “totally disabled” if you are no longer able to perform the material and substantial duties of your occupation (for example, you can no longer perform dentistry), and you can still work in a different field and receive your full benefits (if you are able and choose to do so).

Most doctors looking for a disability policy know that it’s important to get an “own occupation” policy, but may not realize that there are several, less-favorable provisions that are also styled as “own occupation” provisions.  These provisions contain the phrase “own occupation,” but also contain language that can dramatically impact a doctor’s ability to collect.  For example, a policy might provide benefits if you are no longer able to work in your occupation, but only if you are not working in any other occupation.   And some newer disability policies actually require you to work in another occupation in order to collect benefits.

Another type of restriction we’ve been seeing recently is a “transitional own occupation” or “transitional your occupation” policy.  As we stated above, under the true “own-occupation” policies prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s, you can work in another profession and still collect full benefits, regardless of whether you make less, the same, or more than when you were practicing.  With “transitional own occupation policies”  or “transitional your occupation policies,” you can work in another profession, but your benefits are reduced if your total income (from your benefits, employment, and other insurance benefits) ever exceeds what you made immediately prior to your disability.  So, with these types of policies, your earning potential is essentially capped at what you were making before you became disabled (if you want to keep receiving benefits under your policy).

Transitional own occupation policies may seem attractive because they may have lower premiums, but it is important to know that they are not the same as true “own occupation” policies, and they can result in a reduced benefit payment and/or limit your options if a lucrative employment opportunity should ever arise.

While many policies contain the phrase “own-occupation,” including “transitional own occupation” provisions, they often aren’t true own-occupation policies and you shouldn’t rely on an insurance agent to disclose this information.  Oftentimes, your agent may not even realize all of the ramifications of the language and definitions in the policy that he/she is selling to you. Additionally, most of the newer disability policies now contain language saying that you cannot rely on an agent’s statements and/or that agents cannot change the terms of a policy.  Consequently, you should always read a policy from start to finish and make sure you have a clear understanding of what you are buying, before purchasing a disability policy.

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Watch Out for “Work” Provisions

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of how your policy defines the key term “total disability,” and provides several examples of “total disability” definitions.  The definition of “total disability” in your policy can be good, bad, or somewhere in-between when it comes to collecting your benefits.

Policies with “true own occupation” provisions are ideal.  Here’s an example of a “true own occupation” provision:

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Total disability means that, because of your injury or sickness, you are unable to perform one or more of the material and substantial duties of you Own Occupation.

————————————————————————————————————————————

Under this type of provision, you are “totally disabled” if you can’t work in your occupation (for example, you can no longer perform dentistry).  This means that you can still work in a different field and receive your benefits under this type of policy.

Insurance companies often try to make other policies look like true own occupation policies, and include phrases like “own occupation” or “your occupation,” but then tack on additional qualifiers to create more restrictive policies.

One common example of a restriction you should watch out for is a “no work” provision.  Although these provisions can contain the phrase “your occupation” they only pay total disability benefits if you are not working in any occupation.  Here’s an example from an actual policy:

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Total disability means solely due to injury or sickness,

  1. You are unable to perform the substantial and material duties of your occupation; and
  2. You are not working.

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As you can see, under this type of provision, you cannot work in another field and still receive benefits.  This can be problematic if you do not have sufficient disability coverage to meet all of your monthly expenses, as you’re not able to work to supplement your income.

A “no work” provision is something that is relatively easy to recognize and catch, if you read your policy carefully.  Recently, we have come across a definition of “total disability” that is not so easy to spot, but can dramatically impact you ability to collect benefits.  Here’s an example, taken from a 2015 MassMutual policy:

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OWN OCCUPATION RIDER

Modification to the Definitions Section of the Policy
Solely for the Monthly Benefits available under this Rider, the definition of TOTAL DISABILITY is:

TOTAL DISABILITY – The occurrence of a condition caused by a Sickness or Injury in which the Insured:

  • cannot perform the main duties of his/her Occupation;
  • is working in another occupation;
  • must be under a Doctor’s Care and
  • the Disability must begin while this Rider is In Force.

————————————————————————————————————————————

At first glance, this looks like a standard “own-occupation” provision—in fact, it is entitled “Own Occupation Rider.”  But if you take the time to read it more closely, you’ll notice that the second bullet point requires you to be working in another occupation in order to receive “total disability” benefits.

Obviously, this is not a policy you want.  If you have a severely disabling condition, it may prevent you from working in any occupation, placing you in the unfortunate position of being unable to collect your benefits, even though you are clearly disabled and unable to work in any capacity.  Additionally, many professionals have limited training or work history outside their profession, so it can be difficult for them to find alternative employment or transition into another field—particularly later in life.

These “work” provisions appear to be a relatively new phenomenon, and are becoming increasingly more common in the newer policies being issued by insurance companies.  It is crucial that you watch out for these “work” provisions and make sure to read both the policies definition of “own-occupation” and “total disability.”  While many plans contain the phrase “own-occupation”, including this example, they often aren’t true own-occupation policies and you shouldn’t rely on an insurance agent to disclose this information.  Oftentimes, your agent may not even realize all of the ramifications of the language and definitions in the policy that they are selling to you.

Lastly, you’ll also note that this particular provision was not included in the standard “definitions” section of the policy, but was instead attached to the policy as a “rider,” making it even harder to spot.  It’s important to remember that many definitions and provisions that limit coverage are contained in riders, which typically appear at the end of your policy.  Remember, you should read any policy from start to finish before purchasing.

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Case Study: Mental Health Disability Claims – Part 2

In Part 1 of this post, we started looking at a case involving a mental disability claim where the court reversed Unum’s claim denial under ERISA de novo review. In Part 2, we are going to look at how the same court determined the extent of claimant’s benefits.

Turning back to the Doe case we examined in Part 1, after the court reversed the denial, the parties could not agree on the amount of benefits claimants was entitled to. In previous posts, we have discussed how many policies have a mental health exclusion that limits recovery to a particular period—usually 2-3 years. Unfortunately for our claimant, he had such a provision in his policy, which provided that his “lifetime cumulative maximum benefit period for all disabilities due to mental illness” was “24 months.”[1]

Not surprisingly, Unum invoked this provision and asserted that it only had to pay benefits for a 24 month period. The court agreed, for several reasons:

  • To begin, the policy defined “mental illness” as “a psychiatric or psychological condition classified in the [DSM], published by the American Psychiatric Association, most current at the start of disability.” All of claimant’s conditions (major depression, OCD, ADHD, OCPD, and Asperger’s) were classified in the DSM-IV.
  • Claimant attempted to assert that his disability was not a “mental illness” because it was “biologically based.” Id. While this type of argument had been accepted by some other courts, the court in Doe determined that it was not convincing in this particular instance because the claimant’s policy expressly defined “mental illness” as a condition classified in the DSM-IV. The court also noted that DSM-IV itself notes that “there is much ‘physical’ in ‘mental’ disorders and much ‘mental’ in ‘physical’ disorders” Id.
  • Accordingly, the court concluded that because the policy was “concerned only with whether a condition is classified in the DSM,” whether claimant’s conditions had “biological bases” was “immaterial.”

Thus, even though the Doe claimant was successful in obtaining a reversal of the claim denial, in the end, he only received 24 months of benefits due to the mental health exclusion.

If you are purchasing a new policy, you will want to avoid such exclusions where possible. If you have a mental disability and are concerned about your chances of recovering benefits, an experienced disability insurance attorney can look over your policy and give you a sense of the likelihood that your claim will be approved, and the extent of the benefits you would be entitled to.

[1] See Doe v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of Am., No. 12 CIV. 9327 LAK, 2015 WL 5826696 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 5, 2015).

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Build Your Own Insurance: What to Look for in a Policy

Recently, insurers have started to allow consumers to build and personalize their own insurance policies online. For instance, Guardian recently announced the launch of its online insurance quoting tool. According to Guardian, the tool “educates clients on the costs for various options based on age and occupation, demonstrates how adding or removing certain options affects pricing, and shows how to create the plan that best matches their individual needs.”[1]

If this “build your own insurance” concept catches on, consumers may have much more control over the terms of their policies than they have had in the past. Accordingly, in this post we are going to talk about things to look for in a policy, and some things to avoid in a policy.

Things to Look for in a Policy

Generally speaking, here are a few things that you will want to look for when selecting a policy:

  • Make sure that the policy provides for lifetime benefits.
  • Try and find a policy with a COLA (cost of living adjustment) provision. This provision will increase your potential benefits by adjusting for inflation as time passes.
  • Make sure that you get the highest benefit amount you can afford. Remember, if you’re unable to practice, your monthly disability payments may be your only source of income.

Things to Avoid in a Policy

Generally speaking, here are a few things that you should avoid when selecting a policy:

  • “No Work” provisions that only provide benefits if you are unable to perform the material and substantial duties of your own occupation and you are not working in any other occupation.
  • Substance abuse exclusions.
  • Provisions requiring you to apply for Social Security benefits.

Remember, purchasing disability insurance is no different than any other significant purchase.  Be sure to take your time and obtain quotes from multiple insurance companies before making a final decision.

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.

[1] See http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20151028005074/en/Guardian-Empowers-Consumers-Build-Disability-Insurance-Coverage.

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