Your Money Lost; MetLife’s Long-Term Disability Scam in MetLife v Glenn

We write a lot here about group long term disability policies and what bogus products they are. So much so, it is financially unsound to trust these policies to take care of you should you become injured, sick or disabled.

A particularly egregious example of just how worthless group policies are is seen in a case that made it to the Supreme Court (please note how the dissents fall in strict Citizen’s United lines) in Metropolitan Life Insurance Company v Glenn where MetLife was both the insurer and administrator of the group plan that insured Ms. Glenn–a huge conflict of interest. It’s like having the fox watch the hen house.

The plan grants MetLife (as administrator) discretionary authority to determine whether an employee’s claim for benefits is valid; it simultaneously provides that MetLife (as insurer) will itself pay valid benefit claims. App. 181a–182a.

MetLife sought Supreme Court review because of an earlier decision that forced MetLife to pay Ms. Glenn her benefits. MetLife spent a lot of money on this because of the precedent it set: An insurance company had to make good on a long-term disability claim and pay benefits to a person who became too disabled to work full time.

Ms. Glenn was a Sears employee who was diagnosed with severe dilated cardiomyopathy. She had dutifully paid her premiums and now she needed to use her benefits since she was too sick to work due to heart failure.

Respondent Wanda Glenn, a Sears employee, was diagnosed with severe dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart condition whose symptoms include fatigue and shortness of breath. She applied for plan disability benefits in June 2000, and MetLife concluded that she met the plan’s standard for an initial 24 months of benefits, namely, that she could not “perform the material duties of [her] own job.” Id., at 159a–160a. MetLife also directed Glenn to a law firm that would assist her in applying for federal Social Security disability benefits (some of which MetLife itself would be entitled to receive as an offset to the more generous plan benefits).

MetLife directed Ms. Glenn to a law firm to make sure she got Social Security so they could off-set her benefits. CIGNA and all the other insurers do the same. See my earlier blog postings at Illness and Insurance Hell. Just follow the money.

MetLife received the bulk of those retroactive benefits due to offsets written into the language of the policies themselves. These group disability policies are, in essence, bogus products; don’t waste your money.

The Social Security Administration consequently granted Glenn permanent disability payments retroactive to April 2000. Glenn herself kept none of the backdated benefits: three-quarters went to MetLife, and the rest (plus some additional money) went to the lawyers.

After the first two years of Ms. Glenn’s policy, MetLife decided to reverse themselves:

To continue receiving Sears plan disability benefits after 24 months, Glenn had to meet a stricter, Social-Security-type standard, namely, that her medical condition rendered her incapable of performing not only her own job but of performing “the material duties of any gainful occupation for which” she was “reasonably qualified.” App. 160a. MetLife denied Glenn this extended benefit because it found that she was “capable of performing full time sedentary work.” Id., at 31a.

On one hand, MetLife forced Ms. Glenn to apply for Social Security benefits, sent her to a law firm to help receive them and took taxpayer dollars to offset the plan she paid premiums for BUT when it came time to continue paying those benefits after the first two years, MetLife “itself had to determine whether she could work, in order to establish eligibility for extended plan benefits, it found her capable of doing sedentary work and denied her the benefits.”

This was what the Social Security agency said as well, but with help from the law firm they sent Ms. Glenn to, MetLife pushed, and received, tax payer dollars in the form of Social Security dollars. They burden the Social Security system.

The Supreme Court found this questionable as well and said so:

In particular, the court found questionable the fact that MetLife had encouraged Glenn to argue to the Social Security Administration that she could do no work, received the bulk of the benefits of her success in doing so (the remainder going to the lawyers it recommended), and then ignored the agency’s finding in concluding that Glenn could in fact do sedentary work. See id., at 666–669. This course of events was not only an important factor in its own right (because it suggested procedural unreasonableness), but also would have justified the court in giving more weight to the conflict (because MetLife’s seemingly inconsistent positions were both financially advantageous). And the court furthermore observed that MetLife had emphasized a certain medical report that favored a denial of benefits, had deemphasized certain other reports that suggested a contrary conclusion, and had failed to provide its independent vocational and medical experts with all of the relevant evidence. See id., at 669–674. All these serious concerns, taken together with some degree of conflicting interests on MetLife’s part, led the court to set aside MetLife’s discretionary decision.

MetLife also did the same thing CIGNA did to us, namely pick out information that bolstered their point of view of the reality of my husband’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis:

The Court of Appeals ultimately set aside MetLife’s denial of benefits in light of a combination of several circumstances…(3) MetLife’s focus upon one treating physician report suggesting that Glenn could work in other jobs at the expense of other, more detailed treating physician reports indicating that she could not; (4) MetLife’s failure to provide all of the treating physician reports to its own hired experts; and (5) MetLife’s failure to take account of evidence indicating that stress aggravated Glenn’s condition. See id., at 674.

If you are wondering why this happens, it’s simply due to corporate greed and money–lots of money. These group policies are huge money makers for the large health insurance companies and they rake in billions in profits each year from them. Paying out claims to people with Multiple Sclerosis is not what they want to do–their interests lie in fattening the bottom line.

As financial tools, they are worthless and a waste of your hard-earned dollars. You have alternatives such as private policies. Save your money and look elsewhere. And if you think these policies need to be better regulated or ERISA should be removed or rewritten as law, write your members of Congress. That’s what we pay them for.

Your health and well-being do not matter to large corporate entities no matter how much they try to spin it otherwise. See AHIP.

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Your Money Lost: Group Long Term Disability Insurance Policies

Did you know your tax dollars are used to subsidize private health insurance companies?

If you are unfamiliar with Social Security Disability Insurance, here is an excellent primer put out by AARP. SSDI provides protection specifically to qualified U.S. citizens who become disabled and lose their ability to earn an income. We all pay for this through our Social Security taxes. It’s one of the many benefits of being a United States citizen.

When my husband was employed at Fidelity Investments he had a group disability insurance policy with CIGNA. He even purchased extra coverage–to protect our family with 80% of Paul’s income just in case something happened.

But that money was ill-spent as CIGNA did everything in their power to deny coverage to a man with Progressive-Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis. This is not unusual behavior for any private insurance company. In fact, it’s exactly what they do.

But first, you must apply for Social Security Disability Insurance.

When Paul was mid-way through with short term disability and it appeared he was getting progressively worse and not better, CIGNA telephoned us to inform us that they were getting his file ready for long term disability. Great, we thought, they are helping us! Isn’t that what they collect a premium each month for? The answer to that is, no. They collect a premium each month to make money. Keeping that money and not paying it out in claims helps their bottom line.

From the Group Life Market Survey 2009 outlining the sales in disability insurance, you can see group sales disability totaled $1.3 billion at mid-year, with 27 private insurance companies covering 95% of the total market.

After CIGNA denied Paul’s benefits, they telephoned us again. “You must apply for Social Security benefits and send us proof of your application or your long term application with us will be invalid.”

Why does a private insurance corporation demand that you apply for government benefits?

Money, that’s why. If you qualify and receive Social Security Disability Insurance then your insurance company will off-set the amount of money they contractually owe you by the amount of money you will receive from the government. For example, if Paul’s CIGNA policy was to have paid him $5,000 a month and SSDI would give him $2,000 a month, then CIGNA would subtract that amount and only give Paul $3,000 a month. Your tax dollars are used to subsidize private corporations.

Your money is used to fatten the bottom lines of Aetna, AIG Benefit Solutions (that’s how much now in government money for AIG?) CIGNA, Guardian Life, Hartford Life, Mutual of Omaha, Northwest Mutual, Prudential, Sun Life, UnitedHealthcare, Unum and Wellpoint, to name but a few.

Why pay a premium at all?

An entire industry has been set-up surrounding group disability plans to help private insurers NOT pay the claim.

For example, every year the American Conference Institute (one among many) has a yearly event titled, “Litigating Disability Insurance Claims.” Please click the link and read the brochure–it is so very eye-opening. From the brochure, here is what the insurance companies, their general counsels, federal judges (they are the very same federal judges who will decide your disability case!) and doctors will discuss at the above-mentioned conference, emphasis in blue is mine:

    • Whether the medical record is reliable: Whether the treating physician is biased and favors the patient
    • Providing the credentials of the IME’s (Independent Medical Examiner–hired by insurance company): Identifying what is relevant; Highlighting the appropriate credentials; Ways to appropriately critique the credentials of the IME: what to look for and ways to address the inadequacies; Whether specialized medical knowledge is a necessary component of the IME’s credentials (in the case of Multiple Sclerosis, patients are seen and treated by neurologists, the IME who looked at Paul’s written medical records was not a neurologist and first letter of denial was written by an RN and not a doctor)
    • Rotating vendors to avoid the appearance of bias and to ensure an independent review of the claim
    • The denial factor: How many claims were reviewed and denied?; Whether repetitive denial leads to an appearance of bias; Ways to utilize claim denial information
    • Whether the claimant is constrained by financial pressures and returns to work disabled

The last one is of particular interest to me because that is exactly what happened to this family. This family, faced with zero income as Paul had been the sole bread winner for most of our married lives, had to return to work at Fidelity Investments, disabled. This is something the insurance company counts on to help bolster their claim that you are not disabled.

Medical evidence that you are disabled will not prevail.

This conference, and others like it, focus on how to prevent paying a claim, and it does not matter if the claim is legitimate, what matters is the corporate bottom line. The American Conference Institute also has another conference dedicated to defending ERISA claims attended by more federal judges–the very same ones who will hear your ERISA disability case.

Your premium dollars, the ones you work so very hard to pay each month to your private insurance carrier, are not spent on paying a claim should you wake up one day with cancer, MS or become injured in an accident. No. Those hard earned dollars are spent on figuring out how not to pay you. And then, they use your tax dollars to reduce the amount they owe you.

United States taxpayers, it’s time to say enough. Group long-term disability policies are bogus products. They should either be highly regulated or not allowed to be sold at all, as the poorly written policies and the attendant machines put in place by the insurance companies to deny all claims, make the products fraudulent and worthless.

Links:

CIGNA written brochure for brokers about their long term disability product.

Dell and Schaefer, a law firm, discussing CIGNA including the LINA settlement in California.

The 11 Federal Judges Attending the 2011 Defending and Managing ERISA Litigation Conference.

The American Conference Institute assembles a yearly “defending against ERISA claims” conference usually held in New York City. This year’s conference is at the New York Marriott Downtown.

If you have Multiple Sclerosis or any other disease that forced you to fight for your benefits because companies like CIGNA lied (not hyperbole) to prevent your claim, then you know all about ERISA or the Employment and Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. Unfortunately, ERISA has had negative consequences. A full explanation, written by an ERISA expert, can be found here.

But you may not know that the very same federal judges who may hear your case attend these conferences where they help coach insurance companies, plan providers and other attorneys on how to defend against ERISA claims. In other words, how to make sure a company like CIGNA doesn’t have to fulfill their contractual obligations and pay your claim. From the conference brochure:

An ERISA Moot Court: Featuring top defense attorneys arguing some of the hottest and most common issues facing ERISA practitioners today, panels of renowned ERISA jurists will critique arguments, question our litigators and help all attendees understand how to successfully convey their positions to the court.

The federal judges, the ones deciding your cases, are going to going to participate in a moot court to help defend against ERISA claims? How does that square with remaining impartial as part of the judges’s code of conduct? And our favorite here at the MS Activism Foundation:

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: A Focus on Severance Plan Litigation including Triggering Events, COBRA Hang-Ups, and the Other Litigation Issues that Arise in Separation Situations.

CIGNA had a big loss this year in CIGNA v. Amara, even though they are spinning it otherwise, so of course, CIGNA’s senior counsel, Christina McNally will be in attendance at the conference.

Fidelity Investments, my husband’s former employer, is listed on the last page as being in attendance as well. I could not find a name though. Last year it was their very own senior counsel, (and Paul’s fellow Boston College alum) Laura Tholen.

Here are the names and districts of all the federal judges who are attending this year’s conference. And here is a link to the PDF of the 2011 conference. If you are fighting for your claim, and see your judge, send them a letter. Tell them that you know what they’re doing and that it certainly does not appear impartial.

Here are the Codes of Conduct for United States Judges and be sure to ask about CANON 3: A JUDGE SHOULD PERFORM THE DUTIES OF THE OFFICE FAIRLY, IMPARTIALLY AND DILIGENTLY.

Hon. Daniel E. Knowles, III U.S. Dist. Ct., E.D. La.

Hon. Morton Denlow U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ill.

Hon. Matthew Kennelly U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ill.

Hon. William S. Duffey, Jr. U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ga.

Hon. Viktor Pohorelsky U.S. Dist. Ct., E.D.N.Y.

Fernando J. Gaitan, Jr. U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Mo.

Hon. Timothy C. Batten, Sr.U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ga.

Hon. Robert Jonker U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Mo. (I think the American Conference Institute meant MI not MO.)

Hon. Richard G. Stearns U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Mass.

Hon. John Coughenour U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Wash.

Hon. Robert B. Collings U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Mass.