Articles Tagged with “short term disability”

Lois M was a factory worker for a large manufacturing company. By June of 2017, decades of working in very heavy duty manufacturing jobs had taken their toll on her body, leaving her unable to continue working due to severe and debilitating degenerative joint disease in her left hip, mild scoliosis, severe multilevel degenerative disc disease, bulging discs, facet arthrosis of the lower spine, and osteoporosis.

When she was unable to continue working, Lois filed a claim for short term disability (“STD”) benefits under a disability benefits plan provided by her employer and administered by Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”), a subsidiary of Cigna. Despite significant supportive medical records and strong statements from her treating physicians in support of her claim, LINA denied Lois’ claim based on a review by a nurse case manager.

After her claim was denied, Lois hired O’Ryan Law Firm to represent her to appeal the denial of her STD claim and assist her in filing a claim for long term disability (“LTD”) insurance benefits. We helped Lois gather substantial additional supportive medical evidence, including strong supportive statements from multiple treating physicians, and compiled an appeal of LINA’s denial of her STD benefits. Unfortunately, Lois’ employer continued to refuse to pay her STD benefits despite overwhelming evidence that she was truly disabled from performing her heavy duty manufacturing occupation.

Christine W. is 54 years old and worked in marketing for a large network of hospitals and healthcare facilities until she was forced to stop working in early 2018 due to severe back and leg pain resulting from severe scoliosis and flat back syndrome subsequent to Harrington rod surgery. Since that time, she has also undergone major spinal reconstructive surgery and is currently in the process of recovering from that surgery.

When Christine was forced to stop working, she applied for short term disability (STD) benefits through her employer’s disability plan, which was insured by The Hartford. Under the terms of the Hartford policy, Christine was entitled to receive STD benefits for up to 6 months if she was unable to perform the material duties of her own occupation. Because Christine’s medical conditions prevented her from working in her own occupation, The Hartford awarded her STD benefits, which it paid until March of 2018.

In March of 2018, Christine received an epidural steroid injection to treat her back pain, and it provided her with limited relief for 1-2 weeks. Unfortunately, because her treating physician’s records noted that her back pain had improved as of mid-March, The Hartford latched onto this statement and used it to terminate her STD benefits, claiming that she was able to return to work as a result of her improved condition.

O’Ryan Law firm has extensive experience representing clients in appeals and litigation under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), which governs most claims for benefits under employer-sponsored insurance plans. Earlier this year, the US Department of Labor amended its regulations under ERISA, providing claimants with some additional rights during the process of appealing denials of benefits under plans governed by ERISA.

One important additional right granted under the new ERISA regulation is the opportunity to review and respond to any additional evidence considered by an insurance company during an appeal of a benefits claim denial. This means that if a claimant appeals a denial or termination of benefits and the insurance company sends the file to a reviewing physician, the claimant has a right to read and respond to the report of that reviewing physician before the insurance company can make its final decision on the appeal. O’Ryan Law firm recently took advantage of this new protection to obtain short term disability (STD) benefits for a client who had previously had her STD benefits terminated.

Kim M was a Repair Service Attendant at a large telecom company and was forced to stop working in early 2017[1] as a result of failed back syndrome, multilevel degenerative disc disease, lumbar facet arthritis, and spondylopathy. After she was unable to return to work, she was awarded STD benefits under her employer’s disability plan, which was administered by Sedgwick. However, Sedgwick terminated Kim’s STD benefits several months later, claiming there was no longer sufficient medical evidence to support her claim. In the letter explaining its termination of Kim’s benefits, Sedgwick relied on the opinions of two reviewing physicians who asserted that Kim was not disabled.

Urinary incontinence is a surprisingly common problem that affects millions of Americans, and is described by the Mayo Clinic [1] as follows:

Urinary incontinence — the loss of bladder control — is a common and often embarrassing problem. The severity ranges from occasionally leaking urine when you cough or sneeze to having an urge to urinate that’s so sudden and strong you don’t get to a toilet in time.

Though it occurs more often as people get older, urinary incontinence isn’t an inevitable consequence of aging. If urinary incontinence affects your daily activities, don’t hesitate to see your doctor. For most people, simple lifestyle changes or medical treatment can ease discomfort or stop urinary incontinence.

O’Ryan Law Firm, on behalf of Plaintiff, Denise D., recently filed a lawsuit against The Prudential Insurance Company of America (“Prudential”).   Plaintiff was employed by Advance/Newhouse Partnership, which made her eligible for the Advance/Newhouse Partnership Short Term and Long Term Disability Plans, which were administered and insured by Prudential.

Facts of the Case Against Prudential

Plaintiff was employed by Advance/Newhouse Partnership from 2012 until she became disabled in February 2016 and was unable to work due to lupus, fibromyalgia, migraines, spondylosis and radiculopathy. Plaintiff’s treating physicians provided objective medical proof that the Plaintiff was unable to continue working due to these serious illnesses.  Her physicians also confirmed that she was unable to perform the material duties of her job thus meeting the definition of “Disabled” under the Prudential policy.

It’s never too early or too late to hire an attorney to represent you in your disability case. You do not have to wait to be denied by your insurance company before talking to an attorney. We offer several services that can protect your interests. Here are some examples of how we can help:

  • Assist you with your initial application for Long Term or Short Term Disability benefits.
  • Help manage your monthly Long Term Disability benefits.

Many Indiana employees receive group disability insurance coverage through Aetna. Headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut, Aetna is a large disability insurance company that is currently in the Fortune 100. O’Ryan Law Firm has successfully represented many clients whose disability insurance benefits have been unfairly denied or terminated by Aetna.

Short Term Disability Benefits

Aetna’s short term disability coverage pays benefits after a short elimination period (often a week long). Short term disability benefits usually last three to six months. During Aetna’s investigation of the short term disability claim, it is common for Aetna to gather medical records, gather information about the claimant’s job, require statements from treating providers about the claimant’s ability to work and expected duration of disability, and have internal medical consultants review all medical evidence. If the individual is approved for short term disability benefits through the maximum duration of the policy, then they may apply for long term disability benefits.

Long Term Disability Benefits

After an elimination period that is typically the length of the short term disability period, the claimant may apply to Aetna for long term disability benefits. When a claimant receives long term disability insurance through a private employer, their claim is usually governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”).

In addition to information already gathered during the short term disability claim, Aetna will request updated medical records and statements from treating providers, may perform a vocational analysis, and may have internal medical consultants or external medical consultants review the medical evidence. It is very common for long term disability policies to require that the claimant prove disability from their own occupation for the first 24 months of long term disability benefits and then require that the claimant prove disability from any occupation after 24 months of long term disability benefits.

During the long term disability claim, it is more common for Aetna to utilize claim review tactics such as referring the claimant for an Independent Medical Examination (“IME”), contracting private investigators to perform surveillance of the claimant, contracting peer reviewing physicians to review evidence and call the claimant’s doctors, and perform a Transferable Skills Analysis to see if the claimant can return to work in a different job. If a claimant is approved for long term disability benefits, it is likely that Aetna will urge the claimant to apply for Social Security disability benefits. Aetna may even refer the claimant to one of its vendors to represent them in their Social Security disability claim.
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Maintaining or obtaining health insurance coverage is a common problem for those applying for disability benefits. Many Americans receive health insurance coverage through their employer. When a disability forces the employee to stop working, they are at risk of losing their health insurance coverage unless they timely pay the hefty premiums pursuant to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). Unfortunately, not having health insurance can be very problematic for those applying for disability benefits.

If the disabled individual is able to afford the premiums for continued health insurance coverage under COBRA, then it is probably in her best interest to pay the monthly premiums and maintain her current health insurance coverage. However, many individuals are unable to afford the monthly premiums without the regular income from a job. When a disabled person cannot make these required payments, they will be forced to find new health insurance coverage or forego health insurance at all.

First of all, applying for disability benefits without health insurance coverage is challenging. Without health insurance coverage, the individual is usually unable to afford the out-of-pocket expenses required for regular medical treatment. The individual may miss out on important testing, medications, and regular examinations. Of course, if the patient is not seeing their doctor, there will be a lack of current medical records to document the patient’s disability. For both long term disability claims and Social Security disability claims, a lack of ongoing medical treatment can make it much more likely that their disability claim will be denied.

Second, the claimant should do everything in his power to obtain health insurance. This includes looking for private health insurance via the federal health insurance marketplace: https://www.healthcare.gov/ If the individual cannot afford private health insurance options, they should investigate whether they are eligible for their state’s Medicaid program. For Indiana residents, information about applying for Medicaid can be found at the following website: http://member.indianamedicaid.com/apply-for-medicaid.aspx. Even if an Indiana resident is not eligible for Medicaid, they may still be eligible for another state program, such as Care Select, Healthy Indiana Plan, or Hoosier Healthwise. If the individual already receives Social Security disability benefits, then they should eventually be eligible for Medicare, although there is a two year wait to qualify for Medicare.
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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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Cigna, headquartered in Bloomfield, Connecticut, is a global health services organization and its insurance subsidiaries are major providers of medical, dental, disability, life and accident insurance and related products and services, the majority of which are offered through employers and other groups. CIGNA is one of the top health insurers in North America, with medical plans covering nearly 12 million people. Cigna operates in 30 countries, has approximately 40,000 employees and manages around $54 billion in assets.

CIGNA is the parent company of Life Insurance Company of North America. Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) offers group life, accident, and disability insurance to employers. LINA was formed in 1956 by Insurance Company of North America (INA), a CIGNA predecessor company. LINA provides group disability insurance to many employers across Indiana including Toyota, the University of Notre Dame, State Farm, Sony Electronics, Covance and many others. Employees of these companies are provided short and long term disability benefits if they become unable to work due to injury or illness. LINA is responsible for processing the claims and making monthly benefit payments if the claimant proves that they are disabled and unable to return to their own occupation.

During the claims process, LINA will have a Nurse Case Manager review the medical records to determine whether an individual meets the definition of Disabled under the terms of the policy. If necessary, the Nurse Case Manager will escalate the review to a Cigna Medical Director who is an employee of Cigna. The Medical Director will also review the medical records and reports to determine whether the restrictions and limitations listed by the claimant’s treating physician are supported by the medical records. It is not uncommon for the Nurse Case Manager and Cigna Medical Director to disagree with the treating physician and to find that the claimant is able to return to work despite the medical evidence supporting the claim.
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