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New Rules for Disability Claims Taking Effect

On Jan. 5, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that, effective April 1, employee benefit plans must comply with new requirements for disability benefit claims.

Section 503 of ERISA requires every employee benefit plan to:

  • Provide adequate notice in writing to any participant or beneficiary whose claim for benefits under the plan has been denied, setting forth the specific reasons for the denial, written in a manner calculated to be understood by the participant; and
  • Afford a reasonable opportunity to any participant whose claim for benefits has been denied for a full and fair review by the appropriate named fiduciary of the decision denying the claim.

Additional Protections for Disability Claimants

  • Improvement to Basic Disclosure Requirements: Benefit denial notices must contain a more complete discussion of why the plan denied a claim and the standards used in making the decision.
  • Right to Claim File and Internal Protocols: Benefit denial notices must include a statement that the claimant is entitled to receive, upon request, the entire claim file and other relevant documents.
  • Right to Review and Respond to New Information Before Final Decision: The final rule prohibits plans from denying benefits on appeal based on new or additional evidence or rationales that were not included when the benefit was denied at the claims stage, unless the claimant is given notice and a fair opportunity to respond.
  • Avoiding Conflicts of Interest: Plans must ensure that disability benefit claims and appeals are adjudicated in a manner designed to ensure the independence and impartiality of the people involved in making the decision. For example, a claims adjudicator or medical or vocational expert could not be hired, promoted, terminated or compensated based on the likelihood of the person denying benefit claims.
  • Deemed Exhaustion of Claims and Appeal Processes: If plans do not adhere to all claims processing rules, the claimant is deemed to have exhausted the administrative remedies available under the plan, unless the violation was the result of a minor error and other specified conditions are met.
  • Certain Coverage Rescissions Are Adverse Benefit Determinations Subject to the Claims Procedure Protections: Rescissions of coverage, including retroactive terminations due to alleged misrepresentation of fact (for example, errors in the application for coverage), must be treated as adverse benefit determinations that trigger the plan’s appeals procedures.
  • Notices Written in a Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Manner: Similar to the ACA standard for group health plan notices, the final rule requires that benefit denial notices be provided in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner in certain situations.

For more information, please contact the team at Benefit Logic / Crest Insurance Group at 928-526-5691. FBN

By Ed Gussio


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