Unum famously blundered its surveillance back in 2002, when Ed Bradley and the news investigation program 60 Minutes exposed the giant insurer’s bad faith practices. Dr Tedesco was a successful eye surgeon until he developed a hand tremor. He filed a Unum disability claim and received benefits for four months before his claim was terminated. The reason: Unum’s private investigator video-taped him playing basketball in his backyard. Turns out, it was his 23-year-old son. Then he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but Unum still didn’t pay.
A Unum claims handler on the show told Bradley that they had to meet certain targets - so many dollars each month - and often had to close claims such as Dr Tedesco’s. Reps would look for claims they could shut down, even though the claims were legitimate. Disabled people had their claims terminated because their Unum rep had financial incentives to close them - they received bonuses. The doctor sued Unum and a Florida jury awarded him $37.7 million in damages. But Unum fought tooth and nail. Finally, and after appeals, it settled with Tedesco for an undisclosed amount.
A car crash left Len completely disabled - he collected long-term disability benefits for five years, until Unum determined that he could go back to work. “On several occasions I noticed a private investigator following me, trying to catch me at something” says Len. “I saw him walking around my house, I saw him sitting in his beat-up car. I hammered on his window, wrote down his license number and went to the police station, telling them this guy was stalking me. The police confirmed that he was a private eye, registered in the state and represented the insurance company - he wasn’t too private.”
The police wouldn’t tell Len that he was being investigated but soon after his confrontation Unum sent the denial letter, along with a request for more medical records. “My doctors sent Unum everything they asked for, but I’m still waiting to hear back,” says Len. Meanwhile Len applied for, and received, social security benefits. He is not anticipating another Unum check.
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Unum’s goal is to document a claimant “in the act” of performing tasks that may be misrepresented as activities that could justify their ability to work, so they can justify a claim denial. Often the claimant won’t be told how or why they were “caught”. You never know when someone - or something - could be watching. So if you’re getting disability benefits, resist the urge to partake in, say, basketball...