What is the single greatest mistake long term disability claimants make?
Preparing their own internal disability appeal.
It is that simple.
A case worth hundreds of thousands of dollars can be converted to zero – near instantly – when a disability insurance claimant attempts to prepare his or her own administrative appeal. There are several reasons for this, as discussed below.
No. 1. Disability Claimants and Disability Insurers Have Grossly Unequal Resources
There is a complete disparity of resources when disability claimants attempt to take on their disability insurers. Viewing this from the claimant’s perspective, what resources are typically available to the average insured person? Presumably, there is a home computer or tablet, a printer, access to an internet fax program, and copies of pertinent medical records. All these instruments and evidence can be used to assemble a homemade disability appeal.
By contrast, however, a disability insurer is often a multi-billion-dollar company, publicly traded on the stock market, with profit motivations designed to satisfy shareholders, including institutional investors. It has significant financial resources – all of which are at the ready to be deployed against a disability claimant. This is just the macro-picture of the disparity.
On the micro-level, disability insurance claims departments are populated by claims adjusters who have been trained to handle and process disability claims, oversee medical exams, and have been taught how to selectively read medical exam records. Disability insurance companies have in-house physicians, nurses, and large expense accounts to pay unfriendly experts who routinely perform thousands of reviews and exams favorable to the insurers. Finally, the disability claim is one of typically 300 to 400 other claims these claims adjusters oversee simultaneously. In short, they know how to deny a claim and are not able (or willing) to dedicate a material amount of time to review your medical as a true fiduciary should.
No. 2. Not Fully Understanding the Reason for the Denial
A disability insurance denial is usually a lengthy letter. These letters contain required notices, citations to insurance contract language, several addresses, claims identifying information, and so on. Sandwiched in-between all this writing is the rationale for denying the claim. The rationale is the “why,” or explanation for why, a sought-after disability benefit is not being paid. This can be confusing, even to the lawyers who work on these claims regularly.
For example, based on the language a disability insurance company uses to deny a claim, a claimant might mistakenly believe that the insurer is claiming they are not actually suffering from an illness when, in fact, the insurer is really disputing whether a person who is ill can still work. Another often confusing rationale is the challenge to the supportive medical evidence. By way of further example, is the insurer saying the evidence is non-existent or inadequate or is the insurer seeking another type of evidence altogether? Furthering the opportunity for confusion, an insurer typically will not explain to a claimant the difference between objective and subjective evidence. Misunderstanding why a claim is being denied can doom it.
No. 3. Overlooking Critical Supporting Documentation
Medical records are obviously key evidence in supporting a disability claim. The trouble is that medical records, alone, are rarely enough to the win a case. The records require in depth explanation. The records must be tied to showing a physical or mental limitation. Often the records, themselves, provide foundation evidence for other documentation – such as a Functional Capacity Examination (FCE) or vocational rehabilitation analysis. These are areas of expertise to which a claimant may not have ready access to make their case. Leaving out this crucial documentation can also doom a claim during the appeal process and leave a lawyer little to work with if the case eventually goes to court.
No. 4. “Writing a Letter”
When was the last time you wrote a letter and the reader was so moved to start paying you instantly? Has that ever occurred? Has it even occurred to anyone you know personally? In short, it does not happen. As fine a person as you may be, no one will ever approve a disability benefit based on a written letter – no matter how beautifully composed or compelling in narration.
Somewhat cynically, disability insurers love receiving ‘a letter’ explaining why a person cannot work. So long as that letter is not accompanied by medical evidence, the insurer will always be able to deny the claim based on no ‘proof of loss’ or ‘proof of claim.’ A disability claimant will likely never be treated better by an insurance company than in the 30-day period following their ‘writing a letter.’ The case is over, the insurer knows it, but the insurer does not want you to know it – yet.
The Bottom Line
While disability claims are not (lawfully) supposed to be adversarial, they truly are. It is you against them. You forget that rule at your peril. No claims adjuster is there to help – their intention, and job, is to keep costs down by paying on claims as infrequently as possible. They do their job the way that you did your job – they aim to do it well. And doing it well means denying your claim.