What Should You Do if an Insurance Company Denies Your Claim for Long-Term Disability Benefits?
Suffering from a long-term disability can be an incredibly challenging and life-altering experience. Thankfully, many employer’s offer individuals long-term disability (LTD) insurance benefit to provide financial support during these difficult times. In some cases, these plans may provide initial benefits to persons who are not immediately eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits.
Understanding Long-Term Disability Policies and ERISA:
If your LTD plan is issued through your employer, the policy most likely is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which can present a unique set of challenges. ERISA is a federal law that establishes minimum standards for retirement, health, and other welfare benefit plans offered by employers. ERISA also impacts the rules and regulations surrounding your claim process and subsequent appeals. ERISA provides protection for both the plan participants and the insurance companies, aiming to ensure fairness in the administration of benefits.
ERISA imposes certain requirements on insurance companies, such as providing participants with plan information, a clear explanation of the claim denial, and a fair appeals process. However, it also sets deadlines and limitations on the claimant’s ability to present evidence, making the claim process complex and challenging to navigate without a proper understanding of it’s procedure. Importantly, ERISA mandates that claimants must exhaust an insurance company’s internal appeals process before pursuing any legal action. Your first objective should be to familiarize yourself with the specific requirements and deadlines for submitting an appeal, which are usually spelled out at the end of the denial letter. While plans may vary, in most cases you have only 180 days to submit your initial denial appeal. However, filing an immediate appeal also can be a mistake. You must use this 180 day window to properly develop an appeal if you are to expect a different result. For this reason, you should contact an attorney immediately after receiving the denial letter.
Steps to Take if Your Long-Term Disability Claim Is Denied:
1. Carefully read the denial letter from the insurance company, as it should outline the reasons for the denial and the procedures for submitting an appeal. Understanding the insurance company’s rationale is crucial in preparing your appeal. For example, did they rely upon the opinion of an outside medical consultant or did they just not receive all of your medical information in a timely manner?
2. Request a copy of the insurer’s file, including any adverse medical opinions upon which they relied to deny your claim.
3. Collect all relevant medical records, test results, and other evidence that support your disability claim.
4. Consult with your healthcare providers to ensure you have a comprehensive and up-to-date record of your condition. If the insurance company lists the opinion of an outside medical consultant, ask your own provider whether they agree or disagree with those conclusions. Your doctor’s can play a crucial role in responding to a denial, but a short letter stating you are disabled may not be sufficient. It is important to ask the right questions.
5. Eventually, you must submit an appeal letter that addresses the reasons for the denial and provides additional evidence to support your disability claim. Prior to sending in your appeal, consider seeking assistance from an experienced attorney who specializes in disability and ERISA claims.
6. In cases where all other options have been exhausted, filing a lawsuit may be the final course of action. Understand that ERISA lawsuits usually are limited to a review of the administrative record. Do not assume that you will be able to introduce new and additional evidence to a neutral jury, which is why the proper development of the initial administrative appeal is often the key to a successful claim.