Bringing Your Vision-Based Disability Claim Into Focus, Part 2

Today, we’re going to finish our blog series on vision-based disability claims. Last week, we covered Glaucoma and how individuals suffering from this condition can make sure they get the benefits they deserve. The second half of this series focuses on a couple of lesser known conditions that can also affect the quality of life of sufferers and prevent them from continuing in their occupations. If you suffer from one of the these conditions, following the tips below may help you get the benefits you deserve.

Macular Degeneration

maculardegenAge-related macular degeneration is a condition which usually affects individuals over the age of 50, although rare cases have been reported in younger patients. Due to damage to the retina, macular degeneration can cause loss of vision in the center of your vision field, called the macula. This central loss of vision makes it difficult to do such activities as reading or recognizing faces, although enough peripheral vision is often present to allow the patient to participate in activities of daily life. The initial symptom is often yellow deposits, called drusen, in the retina. The larger and more prevalent the drusen are in the eye, the more likely an individual is to develop macular degeneration. Although it affects the central vision, macular degeneration doesn’t usually lead to complete blindness. The macula compromises only 2% of the retina, leaving the remaining 98% of the vision field unaffected. However, almost 50% of the visual cortex is devoted to processing macular information. In addition, losing central vision is extremely detrimental to basic visual tasks – reading is almost impossible and the loss of contrast sensitivity makes it more difficult to differentiate between colors, contours, and shadows.

There are several tests to determine if you have macular degeneration. These tests measure the presence and size of several different objects in the eye to tell if a patient has the symptoms of the disease. If these issues are present, then there are several different vision tests that can confirm the diagnosis. Once the diagnosis has been determined, the treatment usually consists of injection directly into the eye on a monthly or bimonthly basis. There is no permanent cure for macular degeneration at this time, so controlling the disease is the best choice at this time. In addition to the injections, adaptive devices such as special eyeglass lenses, computer screen readers, and accessible publishing options for books can make the daily life of sufferers easier.

There are several issues that insureds may face when filing a disability claim resulting from macular degeneration. The main issue is the fact that patients can still use their peripheral vision to see certain objects and continue basic daily life activities. Claims examiners can twist this ability into an argument that the insured is still able to perform their job duties. In cases where the insurance company uses surveillance,  the activities on video can be taken out of context if the insured is going into public and completing tasks that may require some vision, but not the detailed abilities that a healthy macula provides. Anyone who is applying for disability benefits based upon macular degeneration should make sure to show how their job functions include tasks that require detailed vision to complete.  Otherwise, this can result in an example of the disconnect between a diagnosis and a disability, discussed in one of our prior blog posts.

Retinitis Pigmentosa

retinitis pigmentosaRetinitis pigmentosa is an inherited, degenerative eye disease that can cause severe vision impairment and often leads to blindness. It’s a very unpredictable disease, with some sufferers exhibiting symptoms from birth while others may not notice the condition until much later in life. It can also cause tunnel vision, night blindness, and a loss of central vision. Retinitis pigmentosa is caused by abnormalities in the retina, centered in either the photoreceptors or retinal pigment epithelium. There are no visual symptoms of the disease and sufferers must constantly adapt to less and less vision, eventually causing major issues with the activities of daily living.

Testing for retinitis pigmentosa relies on documentation showing the continual loss of photoreceptor function through visual field testing. In addition, DNA testing is available to detect the presence of a number of different gene indicators that can give advance warning of the condition. After a patient is diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, there is little they can do. At this time, there is no cure for the condition, although some new treatments hold promise but aren’t yet widely accepted. Using vitamin A supplements can postpone blindness by years in some cases, and a retinal prosthesis is being tested in several European countries with promising results. Many sufferers  of this condition maintain some form of central vision for a period of time. Some insurance companies have delayed (or denied) disability claims on this fact, asserting that claimants are still able to do sedentary work and work in conditions that don’t require seeing in low light. If you’re suffering from this condition, make sure that the diagnosis and evolution of your condition is well documented and substantiates how you’re prevented from performing your job duties even with “reasonable accommodations.”

Losing your vision is a scary though but is a reality for many people. The last thing someone who is losing or lost their normal vision to differentiate between light and shapes should have to worry about is their ability to collect the disability benefits they deserve. Some insurance companies use the uncertainty in many vision conditions to cast doubt on the claim and find reasons to delay or deny paying benefits. They will say that accommodations can be made even when they’re bordering being unreasonable. The ability of many low-vision claimants to continue doing things like going to the store and completing yard work makes insurance companies suspicious and surveillance videos seem like indictments.

If you’re considering filing a disability claim based off of a vision based disability or are being treated unfairly by the insurance company, please visit our website to sign up for a free consultation or call our offices toll-free at (855) 828-4100.

The Different Definitions of Disability

Deciphering the different definitions of disability is a surprisingly complicated process. Some of these definitions can be found in almost every policy, while some use attachments or riders to tweak the policy language. While the exact terminology may be different, there are five basic definitions of disability that are important to understand if you’re considering filing a claim for benefits or even if you’re just trying to decide what type of coverage to purchase.

  1. Own Occupation. Simply put, this definition defines you as totally disabled if you can no longer perform the material and substantial duties of your occupation. Some policies will even consider you totally disabled if you are unable to perform just one of the material and substantial duties of your occupation. If you are being paid benefits under an own occupation disability policy, you may be able to go back to work in a different type of job and still be entitled to benefits as long as you’re unable to perform the job from which you were declared totally disabled. Because of this liberal definition, these policies are usually more expensive and harder to obtain.  
  2. Any Occupation. This definition is almost the opposite of Own Occupation. You’re only considered totally disabled if you cannot perform the duties of any occupation. Usually, the policy will include language that takes into consideration your education, training, experience, and earnings level as well.  This prevents the insurance company from trying to envision you in a job for which you’re under-qualified or over-paid just to end your claim. This definition is often found in cheaper, group policies and can be challenging to collect benefits without strong medical evidence and very debilitating conditions.
  3. Split Definition Coverage. While this isn’t a definition of disability in and of itself, this definition is very common in disability insurance policies so it’s worth discussing. Many policies have definitions of disability that switch from Own Occupation to Any Occupation after a period of time that can range from 6 months to 5 years. Anyone receiving disability benefits under this type of coverage should be extremely wary leading up to this transition date, as insurance companies often plan for how to stop paying benefits around that time.
  4. Presumptive Total Disability. Regardless of your policy definition of disability, certain catastrophic injuries or illnesses are automatically considered totally disabling. These often let you skip some of the requirements that must be met to be considered totally disabled. You’re allowed to receive benefits immediately after the elimination period that will continue even if you return to work. The medical events that fall under this definition include the loss of sight in both eyes, loss of hearing, loss of speech, the use of both hands, the use of both feet, or the use of one hand and one foot. These losses must be complete. Different policies can have slightly different qualifications for Presumptive Disability and not all of the ailments listed above will qualify under every policy.
  5. Residual Disability. The first four definitions have been about Total Disability, but this isn’t the only way to qualify for benefits. Some policies include definitions of disability that will pay you a portion (or all) of your benefits if your work level and/or earnings are reduced. Under Residual Disability, claimants are paid benefits based on the relative amount of income they’ve lost due to their disability. This is calculated through a formula that takes into account the disabling condition and the percentage of pre-disability income the claimant continues to earn. Be aware – some cheaper policies include a clause that requires the claimant to have been totally disabled for a while before they’re able to collect residual disability benefits. There are two ways to purchase Residual Disability coverage: you can either purchase a Total Disability policy with a Residual Disability rider or you may purchase what is often called an income replacement policy. Income replacement is another term for residual coverage and can be the cheaper of the two option since it lacks specific Total Disability coverage.
  6. Partial Disability. This definition is very similar to but slightly different from Residual Disability. The main difference is that Partial Disability does not consider the loss of income calculations when determining the benefit amounts. Rather, if you’re considered partially disabled, the policy will pay you 50% of the total disability benefit amount. Partial Disability is also not offered as a standalone policy and is either included as a rider to a policy or as the base coverage in some rare policies. Benefits periods for Partial Disability are often much shorter, usually not extending beyond 6 to 12 months.

Even if your injury or illness may fit into one of these policy definitions, it doesn’t always mean you will receive benefits. There are many other policy considerations, such as appropriate care or diagnosis limitations, that can decide whether or not you’ll be able to collect your benefits. If you’re considering filing a disability claim and are not sure of the definitions in your policy, or if you’re not sure if you qualify for benefits under your policy’s definition, please call our firm toll-free at (855) 828-4100 or sign up for a free consultation on our website. We can help you get the answers you need to get the benefits you deserve.

10 Reasons People Neglect Filing Their Disability Claim

At our firm, we have many clients who contact us quite a while after they’ve become disabled and stopped working. These clients are desperate for income to support their family and need their disability benefits approved immediately, which is challenging at best when dealing with an insurance company. In order to avoid such desperate situations, it’s important to begin the process of preparing and filing your disability claim as soon as the doctor diagnoses you and tells you to stop working. This list provides 10 reasons that people delay filing their disability claims and how to prevent these problems from happening to you.   Continue reading

Insurance Investigators: An Inside Look At Their Techniques

We’ve often mentioned insurance company investigators and their tactics as extremely adept at developing reasons to deny legitimate disability claims. Insurance companies like to hire former FBI agents and police detectives who have been specifically taught to treat their targets as adversaries and be cynical of any answers – which they innocently refer to as being professional. These investigators have undergone specialized training on how to dig up information and how to conduct interviews that can be twisted against claimants and used by claims examiners to deny disability claims. Due to our connections, our firm has seen some of the confidential training materials used by disability claims operations that help provide insight into the investigative techniques and methods used to interview claimants. This information can be invaluable to claimants, allowing them to more properly prepare for the interview, whether it’s a scheduled appointment or an unannounced visit. Today’s blog is going to breakdown and summarize some of the key points to help you handle an interview and understand the underlying purposes for the questions.   Continue reading

Social Media and Your Disability Claim, Revisited

We have talked previously in our blog about the dangers social media can pose for your disability claim. As summer kicks into gear and many people enjoy outdoor activities and vacation traveling, it’s important to revisit some of the social media points we’ve made in the past and provide some new insight into how different Internet sites may be able to help your claim and improve your odds of obtaining the disability benefits you deserve.   Continue reading

Court Watch: Cases Affecting ERISA and Disability Claims

Although we’re not lawyers or a law firm, paying attention to recent court cases and rulings helps us keep up with the constantly changing rules and regulations of disability insurance claims. In the recent past, we’ve seen two cases taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court as well as a few other cases that affect the way the disability insurance companies treat insureds and their claims and the options to be considered by claimants. These court rulings set precedents and rules for many future claims and help form the disability claims process almost as much as claims examiners or company policies.  Today’s blog post is going to explore a few of the more relevant cases and their effects on disability claims.   Continue reading

March Madness: Our Elite Eight Blog Posts

What a difference a year makes! Where does the time go?

We’ve been writing articles for this blog for over a year, and we’ve learned as many things from our readers as we hope you’ve learned from us. As our topics have grown and more readers have found us, we wanted to make sure that some of our posts don’t get lost in the noise of the Internet and buried deep away where claimants would less likely be able to find help. In the spirit of the NCAA basketball tournament, we’re going to go through our most popular blog posts as well as highlight some posts that we think include topical, valuable information that may be helpful in your disability claim. Thanks again for reading our blog over the past year and making us one of the top-rated destinations for disability claim advice and help.  While we hope you never have any problems with your conditions or your claim, we’ll continue to be here to read, just in case, for years to come!

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Protect Yourself Against A Functional Capacity Evaluation

In addition to IME’s (Independent Medical Examinations) insurance companies are also known to use Functional Capacity Evaluations, known as FCE’s, to analyze a claimant’s disability.  These evaluations assess the ability to perform a series of tasks which simulate customary job duties and determine the extent to which the claimant can complete these job duties on a regular basis.  FCE’s can have different focuses and purposes and be referred to as Physical Capacity Evaluations, Work Capacity Evaluations, or Disability Assessments, but they all mean the same thing: the insurance company is attempting to use a biased and flawed evaluation system to challenge the statements of you and your doctor about your ability to return to work.   Continue reading

Defending Your Claim Against the Insurance Company IME

The most important piece of evidence in a disability claim is the medical basis for the disability.  If there is strong medical proof of the severity and continuation of your disabling condition, then there’s a good chance of your claim getting approved.  However, this may not always be the case.  Many conditions don’t have clear cut tests to prove their existence, and other conditions have testing protocols that either aren’t generally accepted or aren’t always accurate.  Even if appropriate testing exists, claims examiners may try to dispute the opinion of the attending physician.

When these and other issues are noticed in the claim file and want to be explored, claims examiners will often demand that the claimant undergo an IME.   Continue reading