Dear Dr. Jameson,
This is an open letter, published at: emilysuess.com/open-letter-j-larry-jameson
I am writing about a concern I have regarding Dr. Lee Hartner, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine. If there is a better place to direct this communication, such as a board or other governing body within the school, please forward this email as you see fit. Alternately, please let me know whom I should contact, and I will write them directly.
My name is Emily Suess, and I am a disabled brain cancer patient who lives in Urbana, IL. In March of this year, my long-term disability insurance carrier, Lincoln Financial Group, cancelled my disability claim and stopped paying my benefit. As you probably know, this is an industry-standard practice designed to save the insurance company money. Following the cancellation of my benefit, I, as the claim holder, have been forced into a lengthy appeals process while I go unpaid by my insurer.
During that appeals process, which is ongoing, Lincoln Financial Group acquired the services of Reliable Review Services (RRS). In exchange for payment, RRS provided a doctor to support LFG’s denial of benefits. That doctor was Lee Hartner, MD, PA – MD423656.
That Dr. Hartner has accepted money to wrongfully claim that my brain tumor is not disabling and that I am able to return to work is not only devastating to me financially, it reflects poorly on the reputation of the organizations with which he is associated–including the University of Pennsylvania and the Perelman School of Medicine.
In the report Dr. Hartner was paid to provide, he casually dismisses my primary physician’s determination of disability–which is meticulously supported and documented in progress notes–and instead he leans heavily on a previous report submitted by another reviewer and said reviewer’s interpretation of conversations with my oncologist. (It should be noted that previous review–by a Dr. Brian Samuels–was also purchased by Lincoln Financial Group, although it was via a different firm, Professional Disability Associates. Apologies if this is getting a bit confusing, it was designed to be that way.) Dr. Hartner also seized on a lack of information–a logical fallacy if ever there was one–in earlier reports to prop up a claim that I am not disabled.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of Dr. Hartner’s report is that he claims I am in “remission.” Having never heard this word uttered by any of my treating physicians, I was shocked to first see it in a report written by a complete stranger who has never even met me, had an opportunity to review my complete medical history, hear from me firsthand, or perform an in-person medical examination. While I realize all such doctors called upon to complete an “independent” review would be equally unfamiliar with my case, I would never expect any of them to make such a claim apropos of nothing.
What’s more, in his report for Lincoln Financial Group, Dr. Hartner notes phone calls he made to my primary physician in relation to my case, presumably to lend credence to the assumption he would complete a thorough review. However, after playing phone tag with my primary physician for a bit, he eventually told her office staff that he “did not need to talk with [her] at this time.” He never spoke with her, and this is documented in written correspondence between me and my primary physician’s office.
After conferring with my primary physician, my oncologist provided a written statement deferring to my primary physician’s opinion on the matter, citing the infrequent visits required by medical oncology and my primary physician’s familiarity with my full history as reasons for his statement.
My purpose in writing this letter is to ask that the School of Medicine be made aware of what has happened to me and that they thoughtfully consider whether it is appropriate for Department of Medicine faculty to consult on behalf of the insurance industry–an industry that has proven time and time again its priority is profit, not patients.
More directly I ask, how important to you is public confidence in your doctors? Are the ethical standards for Department of Medicine faculty and students beyond reproach? If you were in my shoes–broke, disabled, and living with an inoperable brain tumor–would you trust the doctors of the world not to cash in on your tragedy?