1. Obtain a full copy of your plan. The full plan will not typically be a benefit summary or a print-out from a website. It will be fairly long and many definitions and it will recite your ERISA plan terms, policies and procedures for filing a life insurance or AD&D claim and handling the claim, claim denials, appeals of claim denials, etc. The claims administrator will likely not have a copy of the full plan. You can request a copy of the full plan from your Employer’s Human Resources department or often from the claims administrator (the insurer or third-party administrator).
2. Read the plan. Your plan document controls the rights and obligations of the parties, including all plan participants and beneficiaries. Thus, if you have an ERISA claim for life insurance benefits or AD&D benefits, you should read the plan carefully. A human resources representative, a customer service representative for the insurance company that administers your life and/or AD&D benefits, or your claims administrator may tell you what your benefits are over the telephone or in an e-mail. You cannot necessarily rely on what a representative tells you over the phone. The plan document controls the benefits available, not what someone tells you over the telephone or via e-mail. If there is any confusion, ask the representative to tell you what specific plan provision they are referencing and ask them to send you a letter documenting what they are telling you.
3. Read the definitions, provisions, and exclusions. Be aware that life and AD&D insurance policies may exclude certain types of losses, such as suicide within the first two years of life insurance coverage. Pre-existing conditions or sicknesses may exclude an insured’s death or dismemberment from coverage under an AD&D policy as well. “Dismemberment” is often defined by an AD&D policy provision. Terms like “pre-existing condition,” “sickness,” “intoxication,” and other words may have special definitions under your policy. Under an AD&D policy, you will have to prove that the claimed loss resulted from an accident or accidental bodily injury. This can be complicated, especially where the accidental bodily injury may have been caused in part by a preexisting medical condition. If this is the case, you will need to consult an attorney immediately as there are complex and technical rules that are only found in applicable case law. McKennon Law Group PC is highly experienced in this area. Make sure you know what is required under your plan’s specific definitions in order to successfully claim life and/or AD&D benefits.
4. Select the appropriate coverage amount. Some employers will provide you with a base amount of life or accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D) insurance coverage, and some may not. Be sure to select the level of coverage that you want, and make sure you fill out any forms, like a Statement of Health, to ensure that you receive the coverage you select. You may also be able to select a level of life or AD&D insurance coverage for your spouse as well. Read the plan and policy documents carefully; your policy may state that, if selected, your spouse coverage will only be a percentage of your coverage, but your policy may also provide for spouse coverage in an amount independent of your coverage.
5. Confirm your coverage. Get a confirmation of coverage in writing, either a print-out of the premiums that you are paying for each insurance coverage you have chosen through your employer or a certificate that states the exact coverage you receive. Make sure you always have a current document showing your benefits coverage, which will usually be once a year after coverage selection or two to four months after you begin new employment. Review your premiums statements to ensure that you are paying the correct amounts for the coverages that you selected. Put all communications with your employer or insurer in writing and insist on the same in return.
6. Understand the conversion period to individual coverage. Many insurance companies permit you to continue your life and AD&D insurance coverage with them if you leave your employer. Usually, you need to contact the insurance company for your life and AD&D benefits within 30 days of your last day of work to convert your policy. Read through your plan documents and policy to understand the time period you must convert your group policy to an individual one and to know who you need to call or write to in order to continue your insurance coverage through an individual policy. If you decide to convert your policy, keep detailed records on when you called or wrote to the insurance company, what number you called, and who you spoke to regarding conversion of your policy or policies. You may be limited to a 30- or 31-day period, so make sure you follow up every couple of days until you receive confirmation that your policy has been converted. However, by law, if the insurance company does not convert your policy in a timely manner despite your requests to do so, you may be able to extend the time period in which you may convert your policy. You should contact an attorney for advice if you encounter this problem.
7. Time to appeal a claims decision. Read the appeals or grievance section to determine your appeal rights and deadlines. The first appeal must be submitted within 60 days of the date you receive the initial denial, pursuant to ERISA’s regulations. However, there may be a second appeal, which may be mandatory or voluntary. Whether there is a second appeal and whether it is mandatory or voluntary is critical to pursuing your life and/or AD&D benefits claim in court if it is denied. Additionally, although ERISA requires that you have 60 days to file your first appeal, the insurance company may dictate that a second appeal be filed in shorter amount of time. Be aware that you can and should contact an attorney as soon as you receive any notice, oral or written, from your insurance company that your claim will be or has been denied. An attorney can help you with your first and second appeals of the denial of your life and/or AD&D benefits, which will also help if you need to go to court to force the insurance company to pay you your benefits because the attorney will ensure that your life and/or AD&D claim record during the administrative appeals is complete and will help a judge understand that the insured’s death or dismemberment qualifies for payment of benefits.
8. Obtain a full copy of the claim file or administrative record. If your claim for benefits has been denied once, make sure you obtain a full copy of the claim file and/or Administrative Record so you can see what the insurance company considered in denying your claim. You can request a copy of the administrative record from the claims administrator, which is often an insurance company such as MetLife, Unum, and Liberty Mutual. If your claim for benefits has been denied after one (or two) appeals, make sure you obtain another copy of the claim file, which is also called the “administrative record” in insurance litigation, because it will contain updated records of what the insurance company considered in denying your appeal(s).
9. Find the statute of limitations and contractual limitations period as stated in your plan. The statute of limitations and contractual limitations period will be the period of time by which you must file a lawsuit to obtain disputed benefits. To file a lawsuit for benefits pursuant to an ERISA plan, you must first submit appeals (at least one, but no more than two). The contractual limitations period may appear in a section titled, “Legal Action.”
10. Find out who the plan administrator is and seek necessary information from it. Look for a name and address of the plan administrator in the plan. If your claim has been denied, send a written request to the plan administrator for all plan documents. The plan administrator is required to provide the plan documents to you within 30 days. 29 U.S.C. § 1024. Federal regulations allow you to file a lawsuit to seek penalties from the plan administrator in the amount of $110 per day for each day the plan documents are not provided beyond the 30-day period. 20 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(3); 29 C.F.R. § 2575.502c-1.
If your ERISA claim has been denied, knowing when to sue may be integral to the success of your claim. It is important to have experienced and highly qualified disability, health, life and accidental death or dismemberment insurance attorneys, like those at the McKennon Law Group PC. Fill out our free consultation form today to set a time to discuss your claim with one of our attorneys, several of whom previously represented insurance companies and are exceptionally experienced in handling ERISA and Non-ERISA insurance claims.