Every employer-provided long-term disability policy I have reviewed in the past ten years contains some sort of limitation on conditions for which disability benefits can be granted or the duration of those benefits. The most common type of limitation seen in a long-term disability policy relates to “mental disorders,” “substance abuse,” and a general provision typically referred to as “other limiting conditions.” The payment of LTD benefits is often limited to 24 months for the lifetime of a claimant’s disability if it is caused or contributed to by any of these conditions.
Over the years, the “other limiting conditions” provisions we have seen have grown ever more inclusive. We suspect that employers buying these group policies from the various insurers are quite unaware of the nature of these limiting provisions and the reality that many types of disabling illnesses are not actually covered or are seriously limited. A particularly onerous provision recently found in a policy issued by Standard Insurance includes the following:
Other Limiting Conditions means chronic fatigue conditions (such as chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic fatigue immunodeficiency syndrome, post-viral syndrome, limbic encephalopathy, Epstein-bar virus infection, herpes virus type 6 infection, or other myalgic encephalomyelitis), any allergy or sensitivity to chemicals or the environment (such as environmental allergies, sick building syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, or chronic toxic encephalopathy), chronic pain conditions (such as fibromyalgia, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or myofacial pain), carpal tunnel or repetitive motion syndrome, temporalmandibular joint disorder, crainomandibular joint disorder, arthritis, diseases or disorders of the cervical, thoracic, or lumbosacral back and its surrounding soft tissue, and sprains or strains of joints or muscles.
Are you kidding me!? Why doesn’t the insurance policy just say “we will pay you a monthly benefit for your disability, but you should be aware that we don’t actually cover most disabling disabilities or conditions.”
The employer who purchased this policy on behalf of its employees should have paid better attention to the product it was buying. This particular limiting provision would rule out the payment of benefits beyond 24 months for perhaps 30-40% of the individuals who contact our office suffering from a disabling illness, condition, or disease. This particular employer likely had no idea this type of provision had been included in its policy. Claimants seeking disability benefits under a group policy have a difficult enough time actually receiving those benefits given the protections afforded to employers (not employees as intended) and insurance companies by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Such onerous provisions make it that much more difficult. Frankly, such a policy rises to the level of being illusory – meaning the policy promises a benefit that really isn’t there.