Impartial Medicine?

Just when you thought insurance companies had reached the ultimate in stacking the deck against insureds, they come up with a new ace in the hole. Now they are buying up groups of treating doctors, which they will own, lock stock and barrel

In other words, a doctor who is treating you for an illness or injury which may be the basis of a disability insurance claim and who has to file medical reports on your behalf, may be filing the reports with his or her boss – the insurance company.

Talk about a conflict of interest!

The reasoning put forth by the companies is that they will be able to control costs better if they control how the medical practice is managed. Sounds good, but if experience is any indication as to how it will actually work, hold onto your wallet.

Those who represent disability insurance claimants know that insurance companies usually have a contested claimant’s medical evidence “fine-tooth combed” by a doctor who is employed by a medical services company, retained by the insurance company. In most cases, the medical services company has few sources of income other than the insurer. Likewise, many doctors employed by the medical service company have few, if any, sources of income, other than their work for the medical services company.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if the services company and its doctor employees know what’s good for them, they will tailor their medical findings to favor the medical service company’s customer, the insurance company. If they don’t, a substantial source of their income is likely to dry up and blow away.

Lawyers fighting for claimants in the disability income field learn that IMEs (so-called Independent Medical Exams) performed by a doctor employed by such a medical expert vendor, almost invariably result in a claim denial by an insurance company.

If this is the rule when the doctor’s agency employer is hired by the insurer, what is it going to be like when the insurer is actually the doctor’s “boss”? Is such a tighter relationship likely to make a doctor less favorably inclined toward the insurer?

Going a step further, the treating doctor recommends treatments and medication for the patient. If the doctor knows the insurer-employer pays for this wouldn’t there be an incentive to hold back, so as to make the treatment protocol less expensive? Isn’t that a clear conflict between the interests of the treating doctor, the insurance company for whom the treating doctor works, and the interests of the patient?

It seems clear that despite the growing trend of insurance companies buying medical groups, it should not be happening. Doctors are the people who actually define health claims, which in turn define the extent of financial liability of the insurance companies. The conflict of interest is too great if the insurer is actually the employer of a doctor defining the value of the claim against it

It’s bad enough that a whole medical service industry has grown up on the false premise that doctors who earn a large part of their living examining claimants for insurance companies can be neutral in their findings.

As a practitioner on behalf of claimants in the disability income insurance field for 30 years, we can attest that medical service IME doctors are anything but “independent”. If the doctors were direct employees of the insurance company, the odds of fair medical judgment would be laughable.

It is obvious that a patient wants a doctor to have only the patient’s interests in mind. A potential conflict of interest would have a devastating effect on the relationship. An actual conflict is terrifying.

On the basis of past insurance industry history, would anyone take bets that the insurance companies will not take the advantage that employing treating doctors affords?


I.M.E. Spells Insurance Fraud

t’s time to stop being polite and call it like it really is: ERISA disability claimants’ motives are highly suspect in the eyes of the courts, while insurance company motives are given the greatest leeway.

One has to wonder if this is because the workingman has few, if any lobbyists in Washington while the Capitol reeks with the smell of highly-paid insurance lobbyists who can toss campaign money and other largesse around without rhyme but with plenty of reason.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Daily Journal, once again highlighted the fraud of insurance company hired doctors who “call them like they see ‘em”, i.e., to hold onto their lucrative arrangements with their insurance meal ticket. Their motto: NOBODY IS DISABLED!

What excuse do insurers use to foist this corrupt system on people at the worst time of their lives – your treating doctor may feel sorry for you and shade medical opinion in your favor, so that your disability claim may be approved. Therefore, the insurers say, we have to check your doctor’s opinion with one or more of our doctors.

This seems fair enough, except that the insurance company doctor, although not formally employed by the insurance company, is in many, many instances beholden to the insurer.

To construct the façade of “impartiality”, insurance companies hire doctor “agencies” which hire physicians to do what are facetiously called Independent Medical Examinations, purportedly because the insurance company wants to catch malingerers. These doctor agencies scout out MDs, many of whom do not practice medicine as a vocation, but stick strictly to IME exams. These exams provide most, if not all of their income.

These physicians are paid to be highly skeptical of disability claim and claimants. Most of their exams are based on the written reports of claimants’ doctors, but yet they are supposedly able to determine that a claimant is not in pain or restricted in movement or otherwise afflicted, even though they never see the claimant!

Despite this, many courts still give these insurance-hired and paid IME doctors reports enough weight under ERISA to uphold denial after denial, leaving truly disabled people out in the deep freeze of life. How can this be?

Why does ERISA give insurance companies the right to to stack the deck, simply because these companies say some claimants may be faking it? In reality, the insurance companies are faking it with a sham system of Independent Medical Exams which are not even close to being independent and in most cases are not even real exams.

Yet many courts feel constrained under the law to give inordinate weight to these exam “findings” and thereby dump many needy and deserving policyholders into a sea of desperation without the ability to earn an income for themselves and their families.

If the courts were permitted to truly evaluate these exams through cross-examination or even simple discovery, without being hampered by ERISA, they would find that many of the I.M.E. doctors do not practice anything but ways to find that there is no disability, no matter the medical facts. When the M.D agencies that employ these examining doctors make millions from their insurance exams, would any fair-minded person see them endangering their relationship with insurers by having their doctors call them as they really see them?

Can any one imagine that insurance companies, which make money by paying as few claims as possible, would continue to employ a doctors’ agency or an examining physician who called the shots straight? Such an agency or doctor would find themselves out of the money loop and on the street in one big hurry.

So, why don’t we call this unsavory system, loaded against claimants, what it is – a fraud hiding in sheep’s clothing, aided and abetted by hamstrung courts, which are prevented by ERISA from looking for the truth.

At least then, ERISA disability claimants will really know what they are up against.



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).