Archive for November 2013
FSCO Releases Decision Clarifying What Is a “Medical Reason” for Denial of a Benefit and Insurer’s Examination
The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) has released a decision clarifying what is considered to be a “medical reason” for an insurer to deny a benefit and for the insurer to demand that an insured attend an insurer’s examination under Section 44 of the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS).
In the decision, Kadian Augustin and Unifund Assurance Company [FSCO A12-000452] Arbitrator Susan Sapin considers whether or not Ms. Augustin is allowed to dispute the insurer’s denial of treatment because she failed to attend an insurer’s examination. In order to make a determination Arbitrator Sapin needed to consider whether or not the insurer’s examination was compliant with the SABS.
Unifund wanted to send Ms. Augustin to an insurer’s examination to determine if she was within the Minor Injury Group (MIG) after receiving a treatment plan that, if approved, would take her out of the MIG. Unifund provided the following notice to Ms. Augustin in their Explanation of Benefits: “Based on our review of the medical documentation provided to date, we require an assessment by an independent medical assessor, in order to determine if your impairment is predominantly a minor injury as described in the Minor Injury Guideline. Please see the Notice of Examination for further details.”
Arbitrator Sapin found that this explanation did not comply with Section 38(8) of the SABS because it did not state that Unifund “believes” the MIG applies, or why. Nor did it state the “medical reasons and all of the other reasons why the insurer considers any goods or services, or the proposed costs of them, not to be reasonable and necessary. The arbitrator noted that it provided no reason, medical or otherwise, explaining why it refused to pay the benefit.
Arbitrator Sapin goes on to explain,
Although this might seem a very fine point, that is what the sections [38(8), 38(9) and 38(10)] actually say. The legislature chose this wording, and recognised principles of statutory interpretation require me to interpret it in a reasonable fashion and in the overall context of the accident benefits scheme. Given that an insured person’s treating practitioner must provide a factually based medical opinion to support a claim for treatment outside the MIG, I find it is reasonable to require an insurer who chooses to refuse to pay an initial claim to counter with something more than simply a desire “to determine if your impairment is predominantly a minor injury as described in the Minor Injury Guideline,” as Unifund has done in this case. This is particularly so where, as in the case here, Unifund refused to pay for the treatment pending an IE, a response I find undermines the stated purpose of the MIG to provide access to early treatment, a purpose based on sound medical principles.
The arbitrator also provides a guideline for insurers for a proper denial of an application for a benefit that would take the insured out of the MIG as follows:
I find it follows logically from these requirements that in its s. 38(8) notice to the insured person that medical benefits will not be paid, the insurer, in explaining why the benefits are not payable, must indicate that it has reviewed the Treatment and Assessment Plan and any medical documentation provided; compared it to the criteria in the MIG; and determined either that there is insufficient compelling evidence (of pre-existing injuries or conditions, for example) or insufficient medical documentation to persuade it that the accident injuries fall outside of the MIG, and therefore, the insurer believes the MIG applies and the treatment claimed is not reasonable or necessary (because the treatment does not conform to the MIG treatment protocols, for example). I find that type of response would meet the insurer’s obligation to provide “medical reasons” as required by s. 38(8) when it chooses to refuse benefits because it believes the MIG applies.
Also of note is the arbitrator’s distinction between a “medical reason” and a “medical opinion”:
A medical opinion, such as that required of the health practitioner who submits the Treatment and Assessment Plan, is based on facts obtained from an assessment of the insured person’s medical condition, in person or otherwise. As stated above, an insurer does not have the benefit of its own medical opinion at the time it receives the initial treatment plan, and can only obtain one by exercising its right to an IE, founded in s. 38(10), and for which rules are set out in s. 44(5).
With respect to the need for a medical reason to be provided by an insurer when notifying the insured for their need to attend an insurer’s examination under Section 44 of the SABS, Arbitrator Sapin states as follows:
As stated above, I find s. 38 and s. 44 must be read together, as the right to an IE is founded in s. 38(10) and arises from the insurer’s right under s. 38(8) to refuse a claim for treatment. I have already identified that the “medical reasons and all of the other reasons” in the refusal notice should include, at a minimum, a statement that the claims adjuster has reviewed the MIG and the treating health practitioner’s medical opinion, and has concluded that the health practitioner has not provided compelling evidence that the person’s injuries are outside the MIG, or that the treatment claimed is reasonable or necessary. The “medical and other reasons for the examination” in the Notice of Examination under s. 44(5) should contain substantially similar information.
This decision can be read in its entirety by clicking here.
In a recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision, State Farm v. Bunyan [2013 ONSC 6670 (CanLII)], State Farm Insurance Company was not allowed to consider an accident benefits claimant as not being an “insured” under the policy five years after the motor vehicle accident.
This decision deals with Christian Bunyan, who was a pedestrian who was struck by a truck in Alberta in September of 2007 and suffered catastrophic injuries. At the time of the accident he did not have a driver’s license. He was dependent on his mother, who lived in Ontario and had a valid automobile insurance policy with State Farm. Under Ontario law, a person who is considered insured under an Ontario policy can apply for accident benefits in Ontario if their accident occurs anywhere in Canada or the United States.
State Farm accepted the accident benefits claim and also accepted that Mr. Bunyan was catastrophically impaired. Five years after the accident State Farm then took the position that Mr. Bunyan was not dependent on his mother and was, therefore, not deemed to be an “insured person” under the policy. Mr. Bunyan asserted that he was dependent upon his mother at the time of the accident and that, since State Farm was raising this issue five years after the accident, he had lost the opportunity to apply for benefits through any other insurer. In other words, if he was not considered dependent on his mother and not eligible for further Ontario accident benefits he would have no other insurer to provide his much-needed benefits.
D.L. Corbett J. ruled that Mr. Bunyan was dependent on his mother at the time of the accident and also ruled that State Farm was barred by the legal principal of estoppel from taking this position five years after the accident. Estoppel basically means that a party is not allowed to assert a fact or a claim inconsistent with a previous position, especially when it has been relied or acted upon by others. In other words, since State Farm had accepted that Mr. Bunyan was an insured person for five years and Mr. Bunyan had relied on that position and had not applied to other insurers because of that, State Farm was now estopped from changing their position.
The Court’s decision is also helpful because it expands on what constitutes dependency. At the time of the accident Mr. Bunyan was living in Alberta, had recently acquired a low-paying job, had recently separated from his girlfriend and their son, and was relying on his mother for financial support. As Judge Corbett stated in his decision, “It can be difficult to determine precisely when an adult child ceases to be dependant on his parents. Functionally, the change from dependence to independence is more a transition than an event.”