For patients suffering from cancer, treatment may only be the first battle. Insureds who receive disability benefits during the course of radiation and chemotherapy may be denied benefits by their insurers once they enter remission, based on the insurer’s argument that they no longer suffer from the disabling condition (cancer) that put them out of work. However, denying cancer patients disability benefits on these grounds often disregards the disabling effects that cancer treatment can leave long after the disease itself has remitted or been cured.
For example, the Los Angeles Times recently published an article on post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment, or “chemo brain,” the mental fog often caused by chemotherapy treatments. Los Angeles Times, Feb. 27. 2012. Symptoms of “chemo brain” include impaired cognition, attention, and memory, as well as mental fog, fatigue, and confusion. Mayo Clinic Online. The Times cited a recent study which tested 196 women who had undergone chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer, and which found that women who received the chemotherapy “fared much worse” on cognitive and executive function tests long after (21 years on average) they finished treatment. While it is not clear whether it is chemotherapy alone or complications of the treatment that cause “chemo brain,” the symptoms can be disabling, especially for patients whose pre-disability occupations required extensive cognitive or critical thinking ability. The long-lasting effects of cancer treatment have been acknowledged by the courts. See, e.g., McCauley v. First Unum Life Ins. Co. (finding that the insurer wrongfully denied a cancer survivor disability benefits where chemotherapy had left him both mentally and physically impaired).
Another well known side effect of chemotherapy treatment that can be disabling independent of the cancer itself, is peripheral neuropathy. This condition is often irreversible and can be devastating and painful. Objective testing such as EMGs and Nerve Conduction Studies can be helpful in proving that this condition is severe to the insured.
Insurance companies must take side effects of treatment into consideration when determining whether claimants qualify for disability benefits. They should not terminate your benefits simply because you enter remission. We at Bonny G. Rafel can assist you in overturning a disability carrier’s denial if you are disabled due to the after-effects of cancer treatment.
– By Sara E. Kaplan, Esq.