Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

In Koehler v. Aetna Health, Inc., 683 F.3d 182 (5th Cir. 2012), the Fifth Circuit criticized a health insurer for having an SPD that mirrored the plan, and held that Cigna v. Amara did not prevent the terms of the SPD from impacting plan interpretation.

The plaintiff, a participant in an HMO, suffered from sleep apnea, for which her physicians recommended treatment by an outside specialist. Aetna denied covered for the treatment, asserting that the plan required pre-authorization for an outside referral. The parties’ dispute centered around a specific provision in the Certificate of Coverage (“COC”), which the court found was ambiguous with respect to the need for pre-authorization for outside services rendered on an ad hoc basis.

The court noted at the outset something that is common in recent-vintage plans: the plan functions as an SPD. As the court explained: “in addition to appearing in the plan, the COC’s text also constitutes the ‘summary plan description’ which ERISA requires plan administrators to provide to participants and beneficiaries. Thus, although a plan summary is a separate document from the plan itself, in this case the summary’s text is simply a verbatim copy of the underlying plan provisions.”
Continue Reading Including Ambiguous Plan Language Verbatim In the SPD Can Effectively Eliminate Discretion to Interpret It — At Least in the Fifth Circuit

In Schorsch v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., — F.3d — ,  2012 WL 3667977 (7th Cir. Aug. 28, 2012), the court “considered here whether the content of a termination notice, specifically the absence of particular information, caused the beneficiary’s failure to exhaust and whether [he is]  estopped from taking advantage of that failure.” The court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that “the beneficiary offered no evidence of reasonable reliance on the absent information and that even if the notice was deficient, the alleged deficiencies were not material.”
Continue Reading Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies Not Excused Even When Termination Notice Is Defective