On October 4, 2012, **Unum announced that more than twice as many people who have battled breast cancer are returning successfully to work after short term disability leave. Unum explained that in 2009, nearly 64 percent of people on short term disability leave due to breast cancer returned to work, which has increased from 28.8 percent in 2001. Unum admits in its release that cancer is consistently the leading cause of Unum long term disability claims, reporting that about 15 percent of all disability claims each year are cancer claims. Of those disability cancer claims, breast cancer is the leading type and accounts for about 22 percent of cancer claims. Breast cancer is also the leading type of cancer prompting short term disability cancer claims, at 17 percent.
Unum opines that the increase in “return to works” by breast cancer victims after short term disability leave is due to advancements in treatment and early detection. While the advancements in treating and detecting breast cancer are absolutely to be applauded, it is unclear how Unum has forwarded this reasoning for the trend. Even Unum recognizes in its release that the reasons for the increase in “return to works” is not entirely clear.
Unfortunately, we regularly discover that disability insurance companies, such as Unum, manipulate statistics in a way to promote their own self interests, as opposed to those of their insureds. Thus, we question the statistics presented by Unum and the theories forwarded in its release responsible for the change. While it is some of the most wonderful news when our clients have recovered to the point where they and their doctors have determined together that they are capable of returning to the workforce, it is unclear whether the statistics presented by Unum actually represent claimants who recovered to the point where their own treating doctors determined they could and should return to work. We regularly discover that insurance companies like Unum include within their “return to work” statistics disability claims that were unilaterally terminated by the company despite the claimants’ treating doctor’s advisements that the claimant was unable to return to work and where it was advisable that the claimant not return to work. Are claims denied by Unum against treating doctor advisements included in these “return to work” statistics? What about claimants that do not have long-term disability coverage and only have the short-term disability coverage – is it assumed by Unum that these claimants have “returned to work”? How many of these claimants have only been able to return to work on a part-time or light duty basis and still should be receiving some form of long-term disability benefit due to their resultant income loss? Are these included in Unum’s “return to work” statistics?
The advancements our society has made in the recognition of breast cancer, the numerous advocacy groups supporting breast cancer victims, and the community’s commitment to treating and detecting breast cancer is truly commendable. However, without more explanation it is difficult to trust that this is accurately forwarded as the factor responsible for the statistical increase in breast cancer victims returning to work after a short-term disability claim with Unum.
We have handled numerous disability claims where breast cancer victims benefits were either denied outright or terminated by disability insurance companies such as Unum, despite treating doctors advising that their patients (the claimants) were unable to return to work and that it was not medically advisable for them return to work. We’ve handled many disability claims improperly denied by insurance companies (such as Unum) on the basis that the breast cancer was a pre-existing condition excluded from coverage. For these clients, it is literally a matter of life or death – without their disability income benefit (which is many times their only source of income) they cannot continue to pay for life saving treatments. Without the disability income benefit, they many times cannot pay for the medical care that allows them to recover and return to work, and in fact the stress of having their disability benefits denied thwarts recovery. Furthermore, many times a denial of disability benefits has other consequences, such as putting the claimant’s job in jeopardy and also causing termination of other important employee benefits, such as health insurance.
The breast cancer victims that we have represented and those who we continue to represent are fighters, and would love nothing more than to return to work. Some of those clients have been fortunate enough to return to work, even if in a part-time or light duty capacity. Others have not been as fortunate, and have faced not only the battle of breast cancer and for their life, but have faced a disability insurance company that has turned its back on them in their time of financial need after they counted on the disability insurance they hoped they never had to use. If you are experiencing an unfair denial of disability benefits by your insurance carrier, please contact our firm for a free consultation.
**In 2004, after a multi-state investigation was launched against Unum to determine whether its disability income claim handling practices reflected systemic “unfair claim settlement practices”, Unum announced that it had entered into a settlement agreement that exposed it to losses potentially exceeding $120 million. This investigation was based upon Unum’s claims handling practices being questioned by multiple state departments of insurance, and also the United States Department of Labor. Since that time, Unum has aggressively worked toward cleaning up its reputation in the industry of disability insurance.