Some doctors who examine for insurance companies feel free to play fast and loose with the truth when making reports on the condition of out of work employees because they do not have to fear malpractice claims. Although fear of malpractice claims has been heavily overplayed by doctors and insurers in recent years, the plain fact is that insurance company doctors don’t have to fear malpractice claims since the person being examined is not the doctor’s patient. There is no duty owing from the physician to the ERISA claimant being examined.
An ordinary patient’s doctor has a duty to treat a patient in accord with the standards of the medical profession as practiced in the doctor’s geographic area. Insurance company doctors do not treat the patient and so have no duty to him or her.
Owing no duty to the party being examined, the insurance doctor faces no malpractice threat if doctor’s report omits or misinterprets the patient’s condition. What an incentive for insurers to hire and remunerate examining physicians who don’t mind playing fast and loose with the medical facts because doing so poses no danger to the doctor.
This major difference in the consequences of overlooking or misinterpreting the patient’s diagnosis or disability has led to insurers playing games with how they obtain medical information with which they contest ERISA claimant’s claims to being unable to perform the duties of their occupation.
ERISA gives all of the advantage to the employer who in most cases hires an insurer to operate its ERISA plan. Although the employer is a highly interested party, ERISA gives the employer the right to make the “yes or no” decision on a claim. And once that decision is made it stands as the law in the matter until it is overturned.
Fortunately, courts have just begun to take closer look at the insurers’ system for providing medical evidence in ERISA cases. Many insurance companies have tried to appear to obtain independent medical opinions by retaining so-called independent medical services to examine and render medical evidence in ERISA matters.
The problem with this system is that it turns out that these so-called “independents” make most if not all of their fees from the same insurers. How can they be considered “independent”?
Putting a fake third party entity in the mix is just an attempt to obscure the fact that the examining physician is actually working for the insurer.
This system may be good for insurance companies and those doctors who want to make easy money in examining claimants.
But, it’s bad for fairness and truth.