Doctor who faced addiction can continue long-term disability benefits

Many workers in Wisconsin come to rely on their long-term disability benefits at some point in their working lives. Under some long-term disability benefit plans, the ability of workers to receive continued benefits may be reviewed after treatment. One doctor who became addicted to a potent painkiller initially lost her long-term disability benefits after she completed treatment for drug abuse. Fortunately, a federal court ruled in favor of returning her benefits.

The anesthesiologist started to self-medicate with fentanyl in 2004 to manage severe back pain caused by a degenerative disc disease. Fentanyl is a potent painkiller that is fast acting and is 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. The doctor obtained leftover fentanyl from operating rooms and eventually became addicted to the substance. The doctor submitted to a drug test at work after co-workers found her asleep on a table in the hospital hallway. After testing positive for opiates, the doctor voluntarily stopped practicing medicine and enrolled herself in a substance-abuse program.

The doctor’s long-term disability plan covered her while she was in rehab, but her long-term disability benefits were terminated after she completed the program. The doctor’s insurance company argued that the doctor’s chance of relapse was not the same as a “current disability.” The doctor challenged the insurance company’s decision in federal court.

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Alan Olson writes this web-log to provide helpful information regarding long-term disability cases. He practices long-term disability law throughout the United States from his offices in New Berlin, Wisconsin. Attorney Olson may be contacted at [email protected] with questions about the information posted here or for advice on specific disability benefit claims.

The federal judge who heard the case ruled in the doctor’s favor and granted 36 months of retroactive long-term disability benefits. The judge ruled that under the law the policy may not “distinguish between physical and mental impairments,” and reasoned the doctor’s position was similar to that of a person recovering from a heart condition who returns to a high-stress job.

Source: courthousenews.com, “Recovering addict can get disability benefits,” Jack Bouboushian, Oct. 24, 2011

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