A Stacked Deck

Some recent case reports made us wonder once again why IMEs are called Independent Medical Examinations. They are hardly “independent”.

These “examinations” are the evidentiary foundation upon which disability insurance companies rely to deny disability income claims so that these denials can withstand subsequent scrutiny from the courts.

How do you “fix” a game so that it favors you? When you are the manager, you pick the players who you think will win the game for you. Medical “experts” who can be counted on to deny a disability are key to getting the outcome the carrier is looking for. That part is obvious. What is not obvious is that Congress and the courts have permitted this corrupt practice to flourish, making this already one-sided affair a knockout blow for disabled claimants.

ERISA, supposedly passed by Congress to make it easier for employees to level the playing field, gives the insurer, which is also an administrator of a plan, discretion to determine whether a disability claim is covered by a disability policy. It doesn’t take a great brain to figure that if a claim is denied, the money that would have been paid to the claimant goes right to the insurance company’s bottom line.

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled in Firestone v. Bruch, 489 US 101 (1989) that courts must give deference under ERISA to the finding of the plan administrator as to whether a claim is covered, insurance companies have been having a field day denying claims that should have been paid and having the courts, with their hands tied by Firestone, back them up.

What does the IME have to do with this? Insurers have gathered to themselves a coterie of doctors who know only one thing – which side of the bread their butter is on. These “experts” make all or most of their income year after year from insurance company examinations (some in excess of $1 million per). They know that if they were actually impartial in their work, their source of income would dry up fast. So, these “independents” lean heavily in favor of their meal ticket. The result? Disabled policyholders, who may have been paying premiums for years, suffer.

On top of this, courts have had their hands tied since 1989, and have to give these slanted medical reports not only credence, but deference. If any of these so-called “independent” medical reports supports the denial of benefits by the administrator, the court has to uphold the denial even if the court may feel, on the basis of the evidence it has heard, that the denial is flat wrong.

So, why are these reports commonly referred to as “independent”. They are anything but.

(This blog is the first in a series of blogs we intend to publish on the misnamed “Independent” Medical Examination).



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