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When your disability insurer acts too much like Big Brother

It would be disconcerting or even frightening for anyone to find out that someone is trolling him or her on the Internet, or watching his or her comings and goings from a vehicle staked outside the house. We prize our privacy rights and many people view private surveillance with suspicion. 

Disability-insurer surveillance practices 

Would you be surprised to learn that insurance companies do this to monitor the activities of their customers? In the context of disability insurance, insurers are watching claimants on a regular basis.

An insurance company may assert that if a claimant says that he or she is disabled from working, pictures of the person being active on Facebook or investigator observation of the claimant jogging are evidence that the disability is not true. The insurer could try to say that the claim is fraudulent or just use the evidence to try to prove that the medical impairment is not as bad as the claimant says it is. It then uses this faulty logic to deny the claim or terminate benefits. 

What does the medical evidence say? 

One of the problems with this insurance company behavior is that for many mental and physical medical problems, doctors urge their patients to be as active as they can when symptoms allow. Going to a party is normally good for someone with depression. Walking when possible may be good for some patients with MS or fibromyalgia. So the very act of following doctor’s orders can put a person in jeopardy of losing well-deserved disability benefits. 

By the numbers 

Bloomberg recently published a detailed article about disability-insurer surveillance practices, noting that Unum, Sun Life, Aetna, MetLife, Principal Life and First Reliance Standard have all recently used social-media surveillance against claimants. Bloomberg cites a claimants’ lawyer as saying that in “60 to 80 percent of her cases” social media is an issue — and a “central issue” in around 15 percent of them.  

Fighting against surveillance evidence 

It is important to counter this kind of surveillance evidence with documentation of the reality of the situation. For example, your spouse could testify or sign an affidavit of his or her observations of your activity level and functional limitations. Your physician could submit a statement describing why he or she encourages such behavior when possible and detailing the kinds of limitations caused by your diagnosis.