Recently in Insurance Benefits Category

Disability Claims Denied by Sedgwick CMS

August 16, 2014

Sedgwick Claims Management Services ("CMS") is a third party claims administrator hired by insurance companies and employee benefit plans to manage disability claims. If your employee benefit plan uses Sedgwick CMS as a claims administrator, then Sedgwick CMS is responsible for deciding whether your disability claim is approved or denied. As well as processing and adjudicating disability claims, Sedgwick holds itself out as providing the following services:

The company specializes in workers' compensation; disability, FMLA, and other employee absence; managed care; general, automobile, and professional liability; warranty and credit card claims services; fraud and investigation; structured settlements; and Medicare compliance solutions (website last visited August 16, 2014).

Sedgwick CMS is headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee and is one of the largest third party administrators in the nation. Many Indiana employers hire Sedgwick CMS to serve as their claims administrator for employee benefits. Employee benefit plans that currently use or previously used Sedgwick CMS include Eli Lilly & Company, AT&T, Comcast, Walgreens, Franciscan Alliance Inc., SPX Corporation, Ascension Health, Hewlett-Packard, PepsiCo Inc., International Paper, UnitedHealth Group, and many others. If employees of these companies apply for short term or long term disability benefits, Sedgwick CMS is responsible for processing the claims and deciding whether benefits should be paid. As a third party administrator, Sedgwick CMS does not actually pay the disability benefits. Rather, the employee benefit plan or insurance company pays disability benefits if Sedgwick CMS approves the claim. Often, the employee benefit plan has little involvement in the disability claims process, if any.

Like disability insurance companies, Sedgwick initially reviews a disability claim by obtaining medical records, requiring the claimant's treating physician to complete questionnaires, and having in-house staff (nurses, doctors, vocational analysts, claims analysts) review the claimant's file. If the claim is denied and the claimant appeals, then Sedgwick's review of the appeal will likely include the use of contracted record reviewing physicians. If the claim is approved, Sedgwick may call or write to the claimant frequently in efforts to obtain more information. Sedgwick may also require the claimant to undergo an "Independent Medical Examination" or "Functional Capacity Evaluation."

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Recent Developments in Denied Medical Claim Cases

July 8, 2014

In Kenseth v. Dean Health Plan, Inc., 722 F.3d 869 (7th Cir. 2013), Ms. Kenseth had gastric band surgery in 1987. Eighteen years later, Kenseth's physician recommended a second operation to address the severe acid reflux and other serious health problems that had arisen since the gastric band surgery. The medical policy specifically excluded treatment for morbid obesity; however, when Ms. Kenseth called to get approval for the second surgery, a customer service representative told Kenseth over the phone that the medical plan would cover the procedure subject to a $300 co-payment. Subsequently, all of the medical claims related to the second surgery, totaling approximately $78,0000, were denied by the health plan as being related to morbid obesity.

The Court was troubled by the health plan leading Kenseth to believe that the second procedure would be covered when Kenseth called for certification and then denying the claims after the surgery. The Court explained that fiduciaries have a duty to disclose material information to plan participants, which includes a duty not to mislead and an affirmative duty to communicate material facts affecting the interests of plan participants. Although negligence of the individual in supplying advice is not actionable as a breach of fiduciary duty, a fiduciary may be liable for failing to take reasonable steps in furtherance of an insured's right to accurate and complete information.

The court in Kenseth reversed the district court opinion noting that where the defendant, by encouraging plan participants to call for coverage information before undergoing procedures, by telling plaintiff that defendant would pay for the procedure, and by not alerting plaintiff that she could not rely on the advice she received, lulled plaintiff into believing that defendant would cover the costs of the procedure...and where plaintiff did not obtain alternate coverage because she believe she was covered, plaintiff could seek make-whole money damages as an equitable remedy under § 502(a)(3) if the administrator's breach of fiduciary duty caused her damages. The Court seemed most bothered by the fact that there was no warning in the medical plan to plan participants that they could not rely upon the advice given to them by the customer service representatives nor was there any clear explanation given as to how a plan participant could obtain a definitive answer on whether a particular procedure would be covered. The Seventh Circuit ended up remanding the case to the district court to determine whether there was a breach of fiduciary duty, whether the breach was the cause of any harm to plaintiff, and what form of equitable relief was appropriate in light of circumstances of case.

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Misrepresentations in Applications for Insurance Coverage

June 2, 2014

When completing an application for life, health or disability insurance coverage, an insurance company will ask a broad array of questions designed to determine whether an individual is a good risk and the type of coverage that should be issued. It is important to carefully complete the application form to make sure that all of the answers are 100% accurate; otherwise, the insurance company may later deny your claim. Unfortunately, many people do not find out that they failed to disclose important information on the insurance application until a claim is submitted. The insurance company then denies the claim contending that the insured made a material misrepresentation in the application because the insured failed to disclose important information such as a previous health condition or by their failure to answer "yes" to questions which were answered "no." If the misrepresentation is material to the insurer issuing coverage, the insurance company has the right to deny the claim, rescind the policy and refund the premiums that have been paid.

The falsity of any statement in the application for any policy may not bar the right to recovery thereunder unless such false statement materially affected either the acceptance of the risk or the hazard assumed by the insurer. (IC 27-8-5-5(c)). False representations on an insurance application made by an insured concerning a material fact, which mislead, will void an insurance contract, just as in any other contractual relationship, regardless of whether the misrepresentation was innocently made or made with fraudulent intent. Ruhlig v. American Community Mut. Ins. Co., 696 N.E.2d 877, 880 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998) citing Watson v. Golden Rule Ins. Co., 564 N.E.2d 302, 304 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990); American Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Kivela, 408 N.E.2d 805, 810 (Ind. Ct. App. 1980); Bennett v. CrownLife Ins. Co., 776 N.E.2d 1264 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002); Jesse v. American Community Mut. Ins. Co., 725 N.E.2d 420 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000).

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Disability and the Family Medical Leave Act

February 19, 2014

When a disability causes someone to stop working, they may be unsure of their rights to employee protections or insurance benefits. One common question for disabled employees is whether or not the employer can terminate the employee's job due to a disability. For some employees, they may have limited protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Under FMLA, eligible employees can take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave a year. FMLA also requires group health benefits to be maintained during the leave as if employees continued to work instead of taking leave. After the employee has exhausted 12 workweeks in one year, they are entitled to their same or an equivalent job if they are able to return to work. Unfortunately, if the disabled employee is still unable to return to work after exhausting their leave of absence under the FMLA, the employer may legally terminate his or her employment. More details can be found on the Department of Labor's website.

It is very important to recognize that not all employers are required to provide FMLA protection. FMLA applies to all public agencies (including local, state, and federal employers, and local education agencies) and private sector employers who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year. Therefore, if your workplace includes less than 50 employees and your employer is private, you may not receive FMLA protection.

Additionally, employees must satisfy several requirements in order to take an unpaid leave under the FMLA. First, they must work for a covered employer as explained above. Second, they must have worked 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of leave (with special hours of service rules for airline flight crew members). Third, they must work at a location where the employer has 50 or more employees within 75 miles. And fourth, they must have worked for the employer for 12 months.

If a disabled employee is eligible for FMLA protection, they can apply for an unpaid leave of absence due to a "serious health condition." The FMLA defines a "serious health condition" at Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations §825.113 as a condition involving inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. In addition, the Department of Labor commented on the meaning of a "serious health condition" in a 1996 opinion letter and stated that "'eligible employees' may take leave for, among other reasons, their own serious health conditions that make them unable to perform the essential functions of their position.

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Disability and Retirement Benefits under the Indiana Public Employees' Retirement Fund (PERF)

January 16, 2014

If a disability forces someone to stop working, he or she may be unsure of available disability benefits. In Indiana, some employees may be eligible for the Public Employees' Retirement Fund (PERF) and Indiana Public Retirement System (INPRS). Indiana employees who may be eligible for these benefits include those working at public universities, school corporations, municipalities, and state agencies.

Disability Benefits under PERF

As of January 2014, the PERF Employer Handbook is available online at the following link: http://www.in.gov/inprs/2416.htm#. According to the PERF Employer Handbook, employees are eligible to apply for disability benefits if they meet the following criteria:

Have five or more years of creditable service under PERF before the termination of salary, or employer provided income protection benefits (disability insurance), or leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or worker's compensation benefits,

Are determined by the Social Security Administration to be disabled, and

Are receiving salary, or employer provided income protection benefits, or are on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as of the onset date established by the Social Security Administration.

If an employee is eligible for PERF disability benefits under the above criteria, they should apply for disability benefits as soon as possible. As mentioned in the first requirement, the employee may first receive "employer provided income protection benefits" or disability insurance. Employer provided income protection benefits differ from PERF disability benefits and requires a separate disability application - usually this application should be filed as soon as the employee stops working due to disability.

Even though the PERF Employer Handbook sets out the above criteria, Indiana Code actually lists an additional requirement once PERF disability benefits have been approved: "at least once each year until the member reaches age 65, PERF verifies the member's continued disability." Ind. Code 5-10.2-4-6. If an employee is approved for disability benefits, then they will continue to receive benefits until age 65 so long as the Social Security Administration continues to approve disability and the employee provides the appropriate information to PERF.

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Understanding the Requirements of your Long Term Disability Policy

December 16, 2013

When a person with a disability is completing his or her application for long term disability benefits, they may not realize the terms they must meet in order to receive disability benefits. While long term disability policies can vary greatly, there are some common provisions found within the policies. The below provisions are commonly found in long term disability policies, but please carefully review your policy to learn the specific requirements of receiving long term disability benefits.

Definition of Disability
Every long term disability policy will include a definition of Disability or Total Disability. It is common for this definition to be broken into two parts. Often, the first part defines disability as an injury or illness that prevents the claimant from performing the duties of his or her own occupation. The second part pertains to the disability after a set time period, such as 24 months. This second part defines disability as the same injury or illness that prevents the claimant from performing the duties of any occupation.

It is also worth noting that there can be important terms within the definition of disability. For example, some definitions define "own occupation" as one that is performed in the national economy and can be found in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Another example is the definition of "injury" or "illness", which may exclude conditions such as alcoholism or injuries from self-harm. The term "any occupation" may be defined as an occupation that the claimant's experience and training reasonably allows. Because of the important terms within the definition of disability, you will want to carefully review the policy's definition of each term, so that you fully understand the requirements within the definition of disability.

Elimination Period and Other Requirements
Many definitions of disability include more requirements than those mentioned above. One of the most common additional requirements is that a claimant meets an elimination period. An elimination period is usually defined as a set amount of time (such as 180 days) that a claimant must prove to be disabled before becoming eligible for long term disability benefits. An elimination period is important in two ways: 1) a claimant must provide medical documentation showing that they were disabled during this time frame and 2) a claimant will not receive long term disability benefits until the elimination period is exhausted.

Because so many variations in the requirements of disability exist, it is crucial to examine the entire long term disability policy carefully. One common requirement in disability policies is that the insured's disability prevents him from earning 60% or more of his previous earnings (this provision may also allow a person to work part-time, but still qualify for long term disability benefits). An insurance policy could require that a claimant maintains regular treatment with his physician. Other policies may even require that a disability be supported by objective evidence, such as blood tests, x-rays, or MRIs. Some policies may require that a person be approved for disability benefits by the Social Security Administration.

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Disabling Headaches

November 15, 2013

Headaches are an uncommon occurrence for most people. For some people, though, headaches occur frequently, and can be so severe and intense that they are debilitating. When headaches occur frequently, they can force a person to stop working altogether.
Disabling headaches are a non-specific symptom and may be caused by a range of conditions. Therefore, it is crucial for a person to seek medical treatment to learn the cause of their headaches. If a family doctor cannot diagnose the condition causing headaches, then the patient will likely be referred to a neurologist.

Objective testing that explains the cause of the headaches may strengthen the disability claim, so it is important for the patient to undergo any sort of applicable testing. However, the cause of headaches is often not detectable in CT scans or other testing. If the headaches are not explained by test results, then the patient should work with their physicians to determine if any environmental factors are contributing to their headaches.

In cases where the headaches are severe, a patient may be experiencing migraine headaches. Migraines are characterized by moderate to severe headaches along with some of the following symptoms: photophobia (sensitivity to light), phonophobia (sensitivity to sound), pulsating, pain on one side of the head, and nausea/vomiting. Again, it is essential for a patient to explain his or her symptoms to their physicians so that the best course of treatment can be planned. Treatment for migraines may include prescription medications, injections, and attempting to remove trigger sources.

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Disability Claims with Lincoln Financial

September 25, 2013

We have represented numerous clients in short term disability and long term disability claims after Lincoln Financial, also known as Lincoln National, has denied or prematurely terminated the client's disability benefits claim. Lincoln traces its origin to June 12, 1905, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company. Perry Randall, a Fort Wayne attorney and entrepreneur, suggested the name "Lincoln," arguing that the name of Abraham Lincoln would powerfully convey a spirit of integrity. In August, 1905 Robert Todd Lincoln provided a photograph of his father, along with a letter authorizing the use of his father's likeness and name for company stationery and advertising.Lincoln 3.jpg

Lincoln National Corporation is a Fortune 250 American holding company, which operates multiple insurance and investment management businesses through subsidiary companies. Lincoln Financial Group is the marketing name for LNC and its subsidiary companies. LNC was organized under the laws of the state of Indiana in 1968, and maintains its principal executive offices in Radnor, Pennsylvania
In 1928, LNC president Arthur Hall hired Dr. Louis A. Warren, a Lincoln scholar, and in 1929, LNC acquired one of the largest collections of books about Abraham Lincoln in the United States. The Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne was the second largest Lincoln museum in the country. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois is now the world's largest museum dedicated to the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, after the closing of the Fort Wayne Lincoln Museum June 30, 2008.

Lincoln National issues group disability policies, and individual disability policies, to provide income replacement benefits to residents of the State of Indiana who are forced to stop working due to injury or illness. At O'Ryan Law Firm, we have received numerous calls from individuals who were promised disability benefits under a Lincoln National policy yet those benefits were denied by Lincoln despite medical proof establishing that the definition of "Disabled" had been met under the terms of the policy. Several of our clients who are insured by Lincoln National were teachers who had taught for many years until reaching the point where they were no longer able to keep teaching because of medical conditions.

We have successfully resolved disability claims with Lincoln Financial, either during the appeal stage, or if we are forced to file a lawsuit, after the lawsuit is filed with the court. We have developed a good working relationship with the legal staff at Lincoln Financial and have settled several cases with them after a lawsuit was filed. If you have a disability claim against Lincoln Financial, or their subsidiary Lincoln National, and they are refusing to pay your monthly disability benefits, contact the O'Ryan Law Firm at (855) 778-5055 or visit our website at oryanlawfirm.com to find out more information about our services.
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The Importance of Vocational Evidence in Disability Claims

July 29, 2013

In both private disability insurance claims and Social Security disability claims, vocational evidence is usually considered when determining whether an individual is disabled or not. Vocational evidence is information about an individual's occupation or the occupations they may be able to perform when considering their functional capacity, training, education, and work experience. This kind of evidence can consist of job descriptions from the employer, self-reported job duties, information from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles or other similar resources, and the opinions of vocational experts (also known as vocational rehabilitation consultants).

Long Term Disability Insurance

When someone becomes disabled and their employer provides long term disability insurance, then that person often applies for disability benefits under the requirement that they are unable to perform the duties of their "own occupation." Under this type of definition of disability, the individual must show to the insurance company that because of their medical condition(s), they cannot return to their previous job.

During this stage of the disability claims review, the insurance company may consider the individual's job duties and may gather information from the employer, the claimant, publications like the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, or a vocational expert. It is most common for the insurance company to at least gather the employer's job description as part of their claims analysis.

Most private disability insurance policies limit the time for which a person can receive disability benefits under the "own occupation" definition and after a predefined amount of time (often 24 months), the definition of disability requires that the individual prove that because of their medical condition(s), they cannot perform the duties of "any occupation". At this stage of the disability review, vocational evidence becomes even more important because the claimant has to prove that there are no occupations he or she can perform. The insurance company may use the opinions of vocational experts and resources like the Dictionary of Occupational Titles or ONET (Occupational Information Network) to find other occupations that the claimant may perform.

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Multiple Sclerosis Disability Claims

May 14, 2013

Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. The symptoms and severity of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) can vary among those afflicted with the disease, but it is not uncommon for the condition to prevent a person from working. Symptoms can include fatigue, loss of balance, muscle spasms, numbness, weakness, tremors, problems with coordination, difficulty walking, vision problems, bowel/bladder difficulties, inability to concentrate, memory problems, and speech impairments.

When MS prevents a person from working and they file a disability claim with their insurance company or the Social Security Administration, there are a few things that can help prove that MS is disabling. The first step is to make sure that the patient has been diagnosed properly. That includes undergoing exams like MRIs of the brain and spine, nerve function studies, and lumbar punctures. These objective test results are essential to ruling out other conditions and determining whether a patient has MS. Moreover, these test results can also indicate the severity level of a patient's MS.

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Northern District of Illinois Finds that Liberty Life's Termination of Disability Benefits was Arbitrary and Capricious

April 15, 2013

The Northern District of Illinois recently ruled in favor of the Plaintiff's summary judgment motion in a long term disability lawsuit. In Krupp v. Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston, the court found that Liberty Life's termination of Ms. Krupp's long term disability benefits was arbitrary and capricious. Krupp's long term disability benefits were provided through her employee benefit plan and accordingly, the case was examined under the rules and regulations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"). To read the full opinion, see the link here.

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The Dangers of Facebook to Your Disability Claim

February 6, 2013

Attending your child's recital or having dinner with friends, taking a trip, even picking flowers from your garden may seem like innocent activities, and it may be all you feel like doing when you're disabled; however to an insurance company, this sometimes translates into "if they feel well enough to do that, they can go back to work." When you're disabled and unable to work, it's understandable that you might spend more time on the computer updating your status and posting pictures on various social networks like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to stay in touch with family and keep them up to date on your condition. However, posting about your activities, volunteer work, social events or travel can cause serious harm to your disability claim.

Recently we have seen a dramatic increase in insurance companies' interest in our clients' Facebook pages. We are receiving requests for access to our clients' Facebook accounts and copies of all postings, pictures, events and even personal messages on Facebook, dating back to the date the account was established. This can add up to hundreds of images and multiple pages of information, much of which may not be revealing, but is personal to you and is information that you would not want shared with everyone. Insurance companies will try to use this information against you to argue that you are not disabled or no longer disabled, and either deny or terminate your disability benefits. Therefore, when you file a disability claim, it's prudent to stop all postings on social networks immediately in the event that the insurance company has plans to conduct a background check or surveillance. This will minimize the insurer's access to your private life and information that could lead to your disability claim being denied.

Non-Medical Evidence that Disability Insurers Can Use to Deny Benefits

January 15, 2013

The process of applying for disability insurance benefits is not easy. After becoming injured or sick, the claimant must then complete stacks of paperwork in order to file a claim for disability insurance benefits. Among the forms that the claimant must complete is an authorization form that allows the insurer to contact medical sources. But what some claimants do not realize is that the insurer may look beyond the claimant's medical records when making a determination of disability.

The insurance company may utilize a private investigator to surveillance the claimant. This usually means that an investigator will observe the claimant's house or apartment for hours at a time and wait for the claimant to leave the house. The investigator will then follow the claimant to wherever it is they travel and document the activity. Insurance companies may take this evidence and present it to a peer reviewing physician for comment. If a claimant is observed walking in a store for 45 minutes, a doctor can review the surveillance video and opine that the claimant is capable of returning to work.

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Overpayment in Long Term Disability Insurance Cases

December 19, 2012

Unfortunately, there is a common surprise for claimants who have been approved for long term disability ("LTD") benefits through an employee group benefit plan. LTD benefits are usually subject to a list of offsets that will reduce the amount that a claimant receives in disability insurance benefits.

One of the most frequent offsets is when a claimant is approved for Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") benefits. When a claimant receives both LTD insurance benefits and SSDI benefits, the claimant's LTD benefits will be reduced by the amount that they receive from the Social Security Administration.

For example: assume a claimant has been approved for LTD benefits and receives $2000 per month. If that claimant has also been approved for SSDI benefits at $1500 per month, then the claimant's LTD benefits will be reduced to $500 per month. The net effect is that the claimant still receives $2000 per month - the amount they were owed under the long term disability policy - however, the monthly long term disability benefit is now much lower.

The most significant result of this offset occurs when a claimant has been approved long term disability benefits soon after they stop working, but then has to wait for a hearing with the Social Security Administration to determine whether or not they will receive SSDI benefits. In some cases, a claimant can wait two years or longer for a hearing with the Social Security Administration. If a claimant is approved for SSDI benefits at the hearing level, they will likely owe the long term disability insurer for "overpayment" due to the offset provision in their long term disability policy.

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An Insurance Company's Conflict of Interest

July 18, 2012

In cases where the insurance company acts as both the payer and administrator of claims, courts have recognized that a conflict of interest may influence insurance companies to wrongly deny insurance benefits.  In Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101 (1989), the Supreme Court held that a fiduciary's conflict of interest "must be weighed as a factor in determining whether there is an abuse of discretion." Although the presence of a conflict does not change the standard of adjudication, the Court in MetLife v. Glenn held:

Trust law continues to apply a deferential standard of review to the discretionary decisionmaking of a conflicted trustee, while at the same time requiring the reviewing judge to take account of the conflict when determining whether the trustee, substantively or procedurally has abused his discretion.

128 S.Ct. at 2350. The weight the court assigns to the conflict factor depends on the facts and circumstances of each particular case. Id.  A conflict of interest should prove more important where circumstances suggest a higher likelihood that it affected the benefits decision.  Id. at 2351.  Specifically, the Glenn court held:

The conflict of interest at issue here, for example should prove more important (perhaps of great importance) where circumstances suggest a higher likelihood that it affected the benefits decision, including, but not limited to, cases where an insurance company administrator has a history of biased claims administration [cite omitted]. It should prove less important (perhaps to the vanishing point) where the administrator has taken active steps to reduce potential bias and to promote accuracy, for example, by walling off claims administrators from those interested in firm finances, or by imposing management checks that penalize inaccurate decisionmaking irrespective of whom the inaccuracy benefits.

 Id. at 2351.  In analyzing the Glenn case, the Seventh Circuit held "[T]he gravity of the conflict, and thus the likelihood that the conflict influenced the plan administrator's decision should be inferred from the circumstances of the case, including the reasonableness of the procedures by which the plan administrator decided the claim, any safeguards the plan administrator has erected to minimize the conflict of interest, and the terms of employment of the plan administrator's staff that decides benefit claims." Majeski, 590 F.3d at 482.