Department of Labor Proposes New, Claimant-Friendly ERISA Regulations for Disability Insurance ClaimsDecember 10, 2015 Scott Calvert
From time to time, the U.S. Department of Labor promulgates new regulations governing disability insurance benefit claims and health insurance benefit claims that are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, commonly referred to as ERISA. The regulations must be followed by plan administrators and claim administrators when reviewing disability insurance and health insurance benefit claims submitted by claimants. Recently, the Department of Labor proposed changes to the regulations governing long-term disability insurance benefit claims and short-term disability insurance benefit claims.
Mistreated by Your Insurer? Insurers May Not Be Able to Hide Behind ERISA Preemption to Defeat Claims for Intentional Infliction of Emotional DistressNovember 30, 2015 Robert McKennon
Insureds obligingly pay premiums on their life, health and disability insurance policies and dutifully provide updated information upon request by their insurers, but often do not enjoy the same courtesy when they file an insurance claim. In extreme cases, antagonistic insurers engage in a host of tactics, including appointing claims examiners who refuse to return phone calls, conducting intrusive surveillance, accusing insureds of filing false claims or inundating the insured’s employer and treating doctors with document demands—only to deny the insured’s claim. Astonished by this treatment, many insureds wonder if they can sue them for emotional distress damages. The short answer is yes—but there are hurdles.
On Sunday December 14, 2014, CBS’ 60 Minutes program contained a segment entitled “Denied” which highlights that insurers routinely deny, based on lack of medical necessity, treatment for patients with mental illnesses, especially those for long-term in-patient care at mental health facilities. This segment was an indictment of health insurance companies’ actions (especially Anthem Blue Cross) to deny legitimate claims for such care, sometimes with tragic results. According to 60 Minutes, “we found that the vast majority of claims are routine but the insurance industry aggressively reviews the cost of chronic cases. Long-term care is often denied by insurance company doctors who never see the patient. As a result, some seriously ill patients are discharged from hospitals over the objections of psychiatrists who warn that someone may die.”
Recent Federal Cases Applying the State and Federal Mental Health Parity Acts: What Do They All Mean?November 18, 2014 Iris Chou
The Federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (“MH Parity Act”) requires, at a minimum, that the financial requirements and treatment limitations for mental health benefits set by group health plans and health insurance carriers be no more restrictive than those provided for non-mental health medical benefits. The MH Parity Act was originally signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and amended the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and Public Health Service Act and Internal Revenue Code in 2008. Now, the MH Parity Act is at issue in an increasing number of cases and has been addressed several times by the federal courts in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Third-Party ERISA Administrator Abused Discretion by Denying Medical Coverage: A Tale of What Not to DoSeptember 16, 2014 Iris Chou
Sometimes an administrator so unashamedly abuses its discretion in handling an insurance claim that its actions constitute a textbook example of “what not to do” for other administrators and the ensuing decision provides a clear illustration of how courts apply an abuse of discretion standard of review under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Indeed, a recent case clarified that plan administrators and third-party claims administrators alike are held to comparable standards when issuing claims decisions. In Pacific Shores Hospital v. United Behavioral Health, 2014 WL 4086784; 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 16062 (9th Cir. Cal. Aug. 20, 2014) (“Pacific Shores”) the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the district court, finding the third-party administrator acted improperly by denying the insured’s claim based on clear factual errors. Pacific Shores provides a clear example of how courts review a decision for an abuse of discretion, and shows that even third-party administrators, who purportedly have no conflict of interest with the insured, are still held to have the same duties in handling claims and must follow appropriate procedures.
Ninth Circuit Emphasizes Need for an Insurer to Have a Meaningful Dialogue With the Claimant When Denying BenefitsApril 15, 2013 Sean Crane
A recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision reaffirmed the need for plan administrators to state the reasoning behind their denial of coverage. In Lukas v. United Behavioral Health, __ F.3d __, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 1230 (9th Cir. Jan. 17, 2013) the Ninth Circuit was faced with evaluating whether the district court properly weighed the factors necessary to determine if there was an abuse of discretion by the plan administrator in denying the benefits to the claimant. On de novo review, the Ninth Circuit found that the lower court failed to properly weigh these factors and reversed the decision, remanding the case back to the district court for a benefit award and further necessary proceedings related to that award.
In the unpublished case of Probst v. Superior Court (Health Net of California, Inc., et al), No. A133742 (March 6, 2012), Division Five of the First Appellate District refused to enforce an arbitration provision in an enrollment form. Brian Probst (who filed a putative class action alleging that Health Net of California, Inc. and Health Net, Inc (“Health Net”) failed to adequately protect private personal and medical information from unauthorized disclosure to third-parties) sought writ relief from an order compelling him to arbitrate his claims against Health Net. The Court granted the requested relief because the health plan enrollment form signed by Probst failed to comply with the disclosure requirements of the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975 (Knox-Keene Act, Health & Saf. Code, § 1363.1, subdivision (b)), rendering the arbitration agreement unenforceable.
In a victory for health insurance policy holders over health insurers/health care service plans, in Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc, v. Superior Court (Rahm, et al, Real Parties), 2012 Cal. App. LEXIS 138 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Feb. 15, 2012), the Court of Appeals ruled that a plaintiff does not need to obtain approval from the trial court before asserting a claim for punitive damages against a health care service plan. Specifically, the Court ruled that California Civil Procedure section 425.13 applies only to health care providers (such as doctors), but does not apply to health care service plans such as Kaiser Foundation Health Plan or Anthem/Blue Cross.
The Rahm family filed a lawsuit against Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and two Kaiser health care providers. The Rahms claimed that Kaiser improperly delayed before ordering an MRI for their daughter Anna, resulting in the eventual loss of Anna’s right leg and portions of her pelvis and spine. Specifically, despite numerous requests by Anna’s parents that Kaiser authorize an MRI for Anna, Kaiser refused. As a result, there was a considerable delay in discovering that Anna was suffering from a “high grade” osteosarcoma, one of the fastest growing types of osteosarcoma. The delay significantly contributed to Anna’s poor prognosis and the need for the amputations.
McKennon Law Group Founding Partner Robert McKennon Featured in January 2012 Issue of Forbes MagazineFebruary 09, 2012 Robert McKennon
Los Angeles – Noted Southern California insurance and business litigator Robert J. McKennon was featured in the “Southern California Legal Profiles” section of the January 2012 issue of Forbes Magazine in an article highlighting his experience as a top Southern California insurance and business litigation attorney.
Cause of Action Asserted Against Blue Cross for Violation of Montana's Unfair Trade Practices Act is Not Preempted by ERISANovember 09, 2011 Scott Calvert
In a recent decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that ERISA does not preempt causes of action based on unfair insurance practice claims brought under Montana’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. However, the Court did find that Montana’s so-called “little HIPAA” was preempted by federal HIPAA, which is part of ERISA.
In Fossen v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield, __ F.3d __ (9th Cir. October 18, 2011), the Court considered an appeal from a District Court ruling that entered summary judgment in favor of Blue Cross on two causes of action. Plaintiffs – which consisted of three brothers, their corporations and a partnership of the three corporations – sued Blue Cross after the health insurer increased their premiums by over 40%. The lawsuit, filed in state court, alleged two causes of action: violation of Montana Code Annotated § 33-22-526(a) (also known as Montana’s “little HIPAA” statute) and violation of Montana Code Annotated § 33-18-101 (also known as Montana’s Unfair Trade Practices Act). Plaintiffs alleged that premium increase violated little HIPAA’s prohibition against imposing a “premium or contribution that is greater than the premium or contribution for a similarly situated individual” on account of “any health status-related factor of the individual” and the Unfair Trade Practices Act’s prohibition against “unfair discrimination between individuals of the same class and of essentially the same hazard in the amount of premium, policy fees, or rates charged.” The action, filed in state court, was removed to the District Court, which eventually granted Blue Cross’ motion for summary judgment as to all causes of action.