An Open Letter to Penn Medicine Doctors

An Open Letter to Penn Medicine Doctors

Dear Penn Medicine Doctors,

If Lincoln Financial Group was paying, would you say a woman with an inoperable, malignant brain stem tumor was “not disabled” and in “remission” despite her attending physician’s professional opinion to the contrary?

If the price was right, would you pretend you know best when even the patient’s own oncologist defers on the matter of her disability?

If the paycheck was fat enough, would you attest to a lie that stripped a disabled person of the long-term disability insurance benefits she paid for?

Would you?

At least one of your Penn Medicine colleagues would. Shoot, he’d probably even say you don’t know how sick or disabled your patient is if the gig paid enough. I mean, it’s so easy for him to do when he never has to look anyone—doctor or patient—in the eye. He just fills out a report et voila! Robs another cancer patient of her financial security, pads his own wallet.

I wonder if, when typing up his misleading report about me in May, Dr. Lee Hartner figured I’d be too timid or weak to hold him accountable for his profiteering side hustle.

(He should’ve Googled me first. I’ve been writing open letters, blogging about cancer, and just generally sticking up for myself for years.)

Anyway, because individual bad actors like Hartner make it possible for Lincoln Financial Group to rip off disabled consumers and besmirch the good name of do-no-harmers everywhere, I asked Dean J. Larry Jameson to comment on the issue. The way I see it, this is a matter of public interest. If this sort of behavior is the kind of thing Perelman School of Medicine looks for when hiring faculty, maybe patients and med students ought to know.

Unfortunately, Jameson won’t even acknowledge I exist. I guess he can’t be bothered to comment on how Hartner’s lies reflect on Penn, on the Perelman School of Medicine, and on the profession.

Crazy, right? I mean, if Dean Jameson thinks Hartner’s behavior is above-board and medically ethical, why wouldn’t he just say so? And if he thinks it’s unethical, why wouldn’t he release a statement quickly, before the Hartner Stink™ had a chance to get all over the rest of you?

Sorry for the tangent. Back to the original question, which is: Would you do it too?

Sincerely,

Emily Suess

P.S. Maybe you can help me out with another question I have: Why is it only insurance fraud if the patient lies?

How to Help: Fighting Brain Cancer and Lincoln Financial Group

How to Help: Fighting Brain Cancer and Lincoln Financial Group

As the news of my brain cancer and Lincoln Financial Group horror story garners interest, more people are asking how they can help—even complete strangers. I’m really grateful, but not always sure what to suggest. I figured if I created a list, people could pick what works best.

Donations and Financial Support

Affiliate/Ad Support

Social Media Platforms

  • Follow me on Twitter @EmilySuess
  • Follow me on YouTube
  • Subscribe to this blog using the form in the sidebar
  • Share this blog with someone
  • Follow me on Patreon (You can follow my page even if you can’t make a pledge)

Take Action

  • Contact me if you or someone you know has also been harmed by Lincoln Financial Group, Dr. Brian L. Samuels, Dr. Lee P. Hartner, Professional Disability Associates, or Reliable Review Services.
  • If your employer offers Lincoln Financial Group insurance policies and/or financial products, ask them to switch. Tell them you don’t want to be ripped off.
  • Send an email to Dean J. Larry Jameson. (Copy & paste, takes 30 seconds.)
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper.
  • Ask a journalist to cover the long-term disability industry.

Share Your Stories

  • If you work for (or used to work for) Lincoln Financial Group, Professional Disability Associates, or Reliable Review Services and have first-hand knowledge of business practices, contact me or reach out to ProPublica.org.
  • If you have a related story you would like me to share, whether you have brain cancer or another disability or illness, send me the link.
  • If you or someone you know has a story that needs to be told but need a place to publish it, contact me.
Lincoln Financial Group Denies My Appeal

Lincoln Financial Group Denies My Appeal

I mean, let’s be honest, we all knew this was coming. At 11:09 this morning, Lincoln Financial Group sent me this email. What’s next? I don’t know yet, but when I do know, I’ll probably tweet about it.

At some point I will get around to uploading the supplemental documents I added to my second letter and the letter itself. I figure if nothing else, you should see what exactly LFG gets away with ignoring and why any premuims you pay them are probably a waste. (Like I keep saying, if they can deny paying me? What cases do they even cover?)

Lincoln Financial Group’s Email

Emily,

We have completed the review of your appeal for Long Term Disability benefits.  The determination is unfavorable and we will be upholding the denial.  A letter is being sent to you via email with the decision. 

You have a second level of appeal available if your disagree with this determination.

Thank you,

Sherri [Last name redacted]
Claims Specialist
Lincoln Financial Group

UPDATE 11/16/2019

I have hired an attorney to help me with my appeal. The process takes forever, and I still have not completed my second appeal against Lincoln Financial Group. To date, they have not paid me the benefits I am owed for approximately 8 months. I urge everyone to avoid buying policies with LFG. They are a horrible company making billions off people who are vulnerable and sick.

(If you’d like to share your own long term disability horror story here on emilysuess.com, please comment or send me a message through my contact form.

I’m in the News Again

I’m in the News Again

Yesterday, Philadelphia Weekly, published a story about me and my fight to appeal Lincoln Financial Group. I hope you’ll take a few seconds to read it:

Woman with brain tumor says local doc, insurance company conspired to kill disability payments

Even I find the candor of the article a little jarring. It’s one thing to tell your story, it’s something else entirely to hand it over to a relative stranger. I mean, historically, that hasn’t gone well for me, you know?

As vocal as I have been about what’s happening, there are certain things that I have avoided discussing. Deciding what to tell and how it gets told is really the only power I have in this. Letting go of that control for the PW article was terrifying, even though I had confidence and faith in the motives of the people responsible. Nonetheless, I am thankful that PW’s editor Kerith Gabriel and journalist Courtenay Harris Bond decided it was time to turn the lights on the proverbial cockroaches in my life.

On my first attempt to read the piece, I was a living, breathing ball of cringing and wincing. Fuck this is traumatic; no matter how strong anyone thinks I am. So traumatic, that 24 hours later I still haven’t read the whole thing through. Maybe I never will.

As far as I did get, I noticed that there were a couple of places the details seemed obscured or misinterpreted. I second-guessed whether I’d done a good job answering questions and laying out the facts. I started to sweat it a little, but then reminded myself I didn’t start this fire, and I don’t control this story. The larger it gets, the more interpretations of it will exist in the Universe, and that’s not something I’d have the power to change, not even in a perfectly abled body.

So I’m letting go of this step of my fight and regrouping. I know that an official decision from Lincoln Financial Group on my appeal is imminent, and I know that if it’s bad I’ll go through about five to seven days of depression where I just lie in bed, refuse to eat anything nourishing, and have imaginary arguments with the people paid to gaslight me. I’ve got some self-care to do before that happens to try and minimize the downward spiral.

I’ll update you all when I know more.

Reliable Review Services and the Shady Doctors They Hire

Reliable Review Services and the Shady Doctors They Hire

I remember when Anne, a representative at Lincoln Financial Group first told me that my disability claim was up for review. She explained that after 24 months of receiving long-term disability benefits, things were changing. I was leaving the “own occupation” period and entering the “any occupation” period.

Or, put another way, instead of proving I could no longer work as a technical writer, I had to prove that I couldn’t work at all. Funny they don’t put that on the brochures, but I figured, Whatever. This changes nothing. I’m not any more abled in 2019 than I was in 2017. Let them do their review. No big deal.

Anne assured me the any-occupation review process would be conducted by an independent medical team. I swear she called it a “team” though I can’t prove it, because she said it in a phone call. (If I had one do-over to spend on this insurance stuff, I’d refuse any and all phone communication and insist they put every last word in writing.)

In reality the “independent” review was conducted by one dude: Brian L. Samuels MD, and he worked for a company called Professional Disability Associates (PDA). Brian’s report was an insult to medical practitioners everywhere. An utter failure to provide an objective, fact-based summary of my abilities. So I looked him up, discovered he didn’t seem to be doing much in the way of clinical work anymore—and that he was paid more than $29,000 from pharmaceutical companies in 2016 alone—and concluded he was probably just collecting some easy money before he completely retired.

I also looked up PDA, to see who in the hell would hire such a careless medical consultant. That’s when I confirmed what I instinctively knew to be true—that there was nothing independent about any of this bullshit.

PDA’s business profile at Inc.com describes it as “a consulting company that provides specialty risk resources including medical and vocational consulting services to disability insurers and self-insured employers.” If you wipe the bullshit spin off that statement, what you’re left with is something like “We sell medical opinions for cheap to help you get out of paying claims.” And it’s not like PDA denies that this is what they do. On their own website they explain: “We are trusted advisors dedicated to providing expert opinions that help companies make better decisions.”

I made sure to point this out in my first letter to Lincoln Financial Group. Not that they cared. In response to my appeal, they paid for another sell-out doctor’s opinion. The new guy, Lee P. Hartner MD, doubled down on the Samuels nonsense. But instead of lazily focusing on errors and omissions in my medical records, Hartner really went for it. He read a disability determination written by my actual doctor and decided—even though she had conducted a complete medical examination and he possessed nothing more than documents—that he knew what was really up. Now, not only was I fit to work full-time, I was also, to my complete surprise, in remission.

A perfunctory online search for Lee indicated he wasn’t any better than Brian. Though he’s reported significantly less money from pharmaceutical companies, he pops up in more court filings. Always the “independent expert” for a big insurance company, though not always in connection with the same review outfit. Whether Lee had to move companies because his opinions always led to lawsuits or whether he was just trying to cash in on every available opportunity is anybody’s guess. But neither scenario paints a particularly noble picture of him. Especially when you remind yourself that his paid opinions are stripping disabled people—stroke, brain cancer, and leukemia patients, for example—of their financial security in a health care system so broken they’re probably already drowning in run-of-the-mill medical debt.

For my appeal review, Lee was contracted by Reliable Review Services out of Boca Raton, FL. Bloomberg’s profile of the business describes them thusly: “The company caters to employers, third party administrators, and disability insurers.” So, yeah, there’s no chance I’m being screwed by any of these guys. No chance at all.

I guess I’m writing all of this for a couple of reasons. Firstly to my fellow disableds out there fighting a similar nightmare perpetuated by unscrupulous doctors who see us as medical records and not people: what’s happening to you is wrong. What they are doing may be legal, but it is not ethical. Don’t let them convince you that you’re a faker or a taker.

Second, to my doctors and to my primary physican in particular: I’m sorry you spent so much time trying to do right by me only to have some pissant sellout halfway across the country deny you the professional courtesy of presuming you know what you’re talking about.

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