Are Insurance Companies Failing to Live Up to Their End of the Bargain in Long-Term Disability Policies?

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On September 28, 2010 the United States Senate Finance Committee held a full committee hearing titled, “Do Private Long-Term Disability Policies Provide the Protection They Promise?” The Hearing featured testimony from Chicago-based attorney Mark DeBofsky, a disability law expert, as well as The Honorable William M. Acker, Jr., Senior United States District Judge for the Northern District of Alabama.

At the hearing, members of the finance committee as well as expert witnesses discussed the sometimes abusive practices of insurance companies when handling a legitimate long-term disability claim. Mr. Debofsky spoke of the advantages that the current system provides to insurance companies such as the lack of jury trials, the deferential standard of review provided to insurance companies, and the inability of the claimant to present witnesses and evidence in open court. Judge Acker decried the continuation of the “discretionary clause” which creates this favorable playing field for the insurance companies and allows them to at times succeed in refusing to pay legitimate claims.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) seemed to take up the cause of the wrongfully denied claimant in calling for an end to abusive insurance company practices and legislation that ensures that rightful claimants are paid what is owed to them. Mr. Baucus wrote in his statement that, “[a]n insurance policy is only good if the insurance company actually compensates the consumer, when there’s a loss. And insurance law is only good if it helps to make that happen. It’s time to make sure that the law does that.” It will be interesting to see if any legislative changes will be made in the near future now that Congress has obviously taken notice of the problems that can affect the disabled when fighting for their rightful benefits.

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