Plaintiffs seeking recovery of group disability benefits under ERISA-governed plans routinely argue that claim fiduciaries failed to adequately consider and/or account for decisions by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to award Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. As a result, federal courts are regularly tasked with evaluating the substance and sufficiency of discussions of SSDI awards (that are made a part of the administrative record) in adverse benefit determination letters.
Continue Reading Third Circuit Clarifies Sufficiency Of Discussions Of Social Security Disability Insurance Awards In Adverse Disability Benefit Determinations Under Pre-2018 ERISA Claims Procedure Regulation

Those involved in disability claims administration may wish to consider the potential impacts of the current global pandemic. In the current crisis, disability claims regulations may not be at the top of many peoples’ minds. However, insurers, plan administrators, and other involved in disability claims administration may wish to reevaluate the applicable Department of Labor deadlines and requirements in light of present pressures on medical personnel, persons with serious health problems, and business disruptions.
Continue Reading Disability Claims Regulations and the COVID-19 Pandemic

In Vest v. Resolute FP US, Inc., 905 F.3d 985 (6th Cir. 2018), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld dismissal of a claim by the beneficiary of a deceased employee that the employer breached its fiduciary duty under ERISA §502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. §1132(a)(3) by failing to notify the decedent of his right to port or convert his group life insurance coverage to an individual life insurance policy after he ceased active employment.
Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Finds No Fiduciary Duty To Give Notice Of Conversion/Portability Rights On Termination Of Employment

Significant changes to the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) rules regulating disability claims procedures are now in force.  These new rules apply to claims filed on or after April 1, 2018.

ERISA directs the Secretary of Labor to establish and maintain rules which ensure that plan fiduciaries and insurance providers fully and fairly review claims for ERISA-governed benefits.  The DOL’s rules regulating claims procedures are set forth at 29 C.F.R. §  2560.503-1, which contains detailed direction as to the claims handling process for both group health plans and disability plans.  Historically, 29 C.F.R. §  2560.503-1 imposed similar obligations on group health plans and disability plans.  That changed in 2010, however, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, under which claims procedures for group health plans were significantly modified, while procedures for disability plans remained untouched.
Continue Reading New DOL Disability Regulations Now Effective

In today’s Federal Register, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) of the U.S. Department of Labor has published its notice delaying, by 90 days, the applicable date of its final rule amending the disability claims procedure requirements applicable to ERISA-covered employee benefit plans (the “Final Rule”). The new claims procedures had initially been set to become applicable on January 1, 2018.  That date has now been delayed to April 1, 2018.

The new claims procedures of the Final Rule apply to all ERISA plans that provide disability benefits, which include not only short-term and long-term disability plans but also other types of ERISA plans with disability provisions, such as many retirement plans. The purpose of the delay is to provide EBSA with time to consider the Final Rule’s impact on the group disability insurance market, in light of President Trump’s Executive Order 13777 directing federal agencies to evaluate regulations (with input from affected entities) with an eye toward reducing regulatory burden and expense.
Continue Reading EBSA Formally Extends Applicability Date of Disability Claims Regulations to April 1, 2018; Time to Comment on the Regulations Ends Soon

On October 6, 2017, the Department of Labor signed a proposed Rule “to delay for ninety (90) days – through April 1, 2018 – the applicability of the Final Rule amending the claims procedure requirements applicable to ERISA-covered employee benefit plans that provide disability benefits.”

Specifically, the DOL proposes:

Section 2560.503-1 is amended by removing “on or after January 1, 2018” and adding in its place “after April 1, 2018” in paragraph (p)(3) and by removing the date “December 31, 2017” and adding in its place “April 1, 2018” in paragraph (p)(4).

The proposed rule is scheduled to be officially published on October 12, 2017. There will be a 15-day period for comments on the proposal to extend the applicability date. There will also be a 60-day period to submit “comments providing data and otherwise germane to the examination of the merits of rescinding, modifying, or retaining the rule[.]”
Continue Reading Department of Labor Proposes to Delay Implementation of Disability Claim Regulations

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that claim fiduciaries must strictly comply with ERISA claim regulations or lose the deferential standard of review, as we have discussed in previous posts: Second Circuit rejects “substantial compliance” rule, Insurer’s Failure to Establish “Special Circumstances” for Extension of Time to Decide LTD Appeal Warrants De Novo Review, and District of Connecticut Rules that Violations of Claims Procedure Regulations Result in Loss of Discretion.

While other courts have not applied the same strict level of scrutiny to the claims regulations as Halo and its progeny, the Ninth Circuit recently held that a procedural violation in the claims-handling process may warrant de novo review if it resulted in substantive harm to the claimant. In Smith v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., Dkt. # No. 16-15319 (9th Cir., March 16, 2017), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a district court’s order in favor of the insurer on a plan participant’s claims for short- and long-term disability benefits, remanding the case back to the district court for further consideration.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Holds That Violation of DOL Claim Regulations Can Result in a Loss of Deference

As ordered by President Trump in a presidential memorandum (the “Memorandum”) on February 3, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a 60-day delay to the “fiduciary rule,” which revised the definition of “fiduciary” for retirement investment advice purposes. The rule was originally set to become effective on April 10, 2017; however, after receiving

Following the 2016 decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Halo v. Yale Health Plan, 819 F.3d 42 (2d Cir. 2016), in which the Second Circuit rejected the doctrine of “substantial compliance” with ERISA claim regulations in favor of a much stricter interpretation, courts within the Second Circuit have increasingly held insurers and other claims fiduciaries to a high standard of compliance with the claim regulations, regardless of the type of benefit at issue.

Under Halo, a plan’s failure to comply with the claims-procedure regulations will result in that claim being reviewed de novo, unless the plan has otherwise “established procedures in full conformity” with the regulations and can show that its failure to comply with the regulations was both inadvertent and harmless. We have previously written about this here and here.

Most recently, in Schuman v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39388 (D. Conn. Mar. 20, 2017), the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut ruled that Halo compelled de novo review of a denial of long-term disability benefits, despite the grant of discretion in the plan. The plaintiff (plan participant) alleged several violations of the claims-procedure regulations, including: failure to adequately consider a vocational assessment submitted by the plaintiff; improper deference to the initial decision on appeal; failure to provide copies of internal policy guidelines upon request; and lack of adequate safeguards to ensure that claims decisions were made in accordance with the applicable plan document.
Continue Reading District of Connecticut Rules that Violations of Claims Procedure Regulations Result in Loss of Discretion

As ordered by President Trump in last month’s presidential memorandum (the “Memorandum”), the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a 60-day delay to its conflict of interest rule (commonly referred to as the “fiduciary rule”). The effective date of the fiduciary rule, which revised the definition of a “fiduciary” for retirement investment advice purposes, is currently April 10, 2017. In addition to a general 15-day comment period, the DOL is also accepting comments until April 16, 2017 on the Memorandum itself and on issues applicable to whether or not the fiduciary rule should be revised, revoked, or further delayed.
Continue Reading DOL Calls For Delay of the Fiduciary Rule