Monday, May 16, 2016

Who is Responsible For Obtaining Medical Records in a Long Term Disability Appeal?

I find that claim administrators and long term disability claimants are often confused as to which party is responsible for obtaining the medical records during the administrative appeals process. Is it the claimant's responsibility or the plan administrator / insurer? 

As a result of this confusion there are many situations where decisions are made by the insurer or the plan administrator without reviewing all relevant medical files.  Moreover, it is evident that many unscrupulous disability insurers foster this confusion in order to gather only those medical records that are favorable to their position.  

Fortunately, several Circuit Court of Appeals decisions have shed some light on this issue.  One case that is particularly helpful on this questions is Harrison v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 773 F.3d 15, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 22932, 59 Employee Benefits Cas. (BNA) 1507 (4th Cir. Va. 2014).  In Harrison  the plan administrator failed to obtain medical records from the claimant's psychologist even though the records were "readily available" and it was put on notice of their existence.  The 4th Circuit held that by failing to contact the claimant's psychologist when the plan administrator was on notice that she was seeking treatment for mental health conditions and when the administrator had his contact information, as well as  properly signed release forms from the claimant, the administrator "chose to remain willfully blind to readily available information" that may well have confirmed her theory of disability.  Consequently, the Circuit Court held that the plan administrator breached the fiduciary duty owed to the claimant.

However, it is extremely important to note that in Harrison the 6th Circuit emphasized that under most circumstances claimants are primarily responsible for obtaining the medical records.  The Court of Appeals stated:
[T]he primary responsibility for providing medical evidence to support a claimant's theory rests with the claimant. (Citations omitted.) Claimants are more familiar with their medical history and their treating physicians and are far better suited to provide the evidence necessary to support a claim for disability. However, once a plan administrator is on notice that readily-available evidence exists that might confirm claimant's theory of disability, it cannot shut its eyes to such evidence where there is little in the record to suggest the claim deficient.
Harrison is consistent with other Court of Appeals decisions.  See Roganti v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 786 F.3d 201, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 7933, 59 Employee Benefits Cas. (BNA) 2529 (2d Cir. N.Y. 2015)