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What’s your ‘disabled-worker economy’?

October 31, 2011

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This frame is from a New York Times video that describes a billion-dollar disability-fraud case in which workers who claimed they were disabled played golf and tennis.

Sometimes an eye-catching story might not, at first, appear to have a local angle — but it’s such a talker that you’ve just got to find a connection.

That was my reaction to the New York Times story Thursday about the arrests of former railroad workers in a suspected $1 billion disability-fraud case.  It’s a well-told tale and the specifics, mined  from the charging documents,  are quite compelling:

“One of the defendants, Gregory Noone, 62, of East Islip, N.Y., who receives $105,000 in pension and disability payments each year, plays tennis several times a week and played golf 140 days over the course of one nine-month period, despite his reports that he had severe pain when gripping objects, bending or crouching,” the complaint filed in the case said.

The complaint is pretty interesting reading, too; it alleges that some of the suspects paved the way for disability claims with visits to doctors who colluded with them to “pad” medical records and otherwise establish the basis of claims.  Click on the link; it’s quite the page-turner.

Disability insurance comes in many forms — as part of a worker’s compensation claim, as a federal benefit from the Social Security Administration, as part of a privately purchased or employer-sponsored policy, and more.  Here’s a primer at Bankrate.com — note the great sources in the article that you might want to tap for current figures.

A personal finance or consumer guide to types, availability and pros/cons of each type of insurance — much like the Bankrate article — would be timely.  This site, DisabilityInsurance.org, appears to be a commercial insurance-shopping venue but does have some interesting state-by-state information, and you could run a hypothetical rate-comparison search to find some providers in your area.

Here’s an interesting local example at BND.com of a disabled worker found participating in a bass-fishing contest just as his final check was being paid. Talk with your state’s attorney general’s office, the local U.S. attorney, state insurance regulators and insurers about the best way to find specific cases in court records.

Long Island Railroad
Those charged in the billion-dollar disability-fraud case included former workers for the Long Island Rail Road.

Aside from the “sting” type of story — which admittedly has its charms — take a deeper dig at the actual industry and try to pinpoint just how big the “disabled-worker economy” is in your state or region.  How many law firms specialize in either pressing or defending against worker claims?  How big is the state engine devoted to managing, tracking and regulating claims, and in investigating fraud?  And what other offshoots of the issue provide a livelihood for people in your area?  And what sort of niche jobs are they doing?  Great fodder for career and small-business stories.

It’s well-known, for example, that companies wishing to verify claims often will send private eyes around to see if disabled workers are engaging in strenuous activity, or anything else that contradicts their diagnosis.  But who knew that counter-surveillance could combat that?  International Counterintelligence Services advertises just that online, as do numerous other consultants.  Consultants advertise their services to both claimants and defendants, and of course within the disability insurance industry, there are an array of interesting actuarial jobs, investigative jobs, medical jobs and other career angles worth a look.

And, as luck would have it, the National Workers Compensation and Disability Conference and Expo is next week in Las Vegas.  If you don’t want to write about fraud, mine the agenda for other issues of concern to insurers and other industry insiders. There’s a session about the costs and benefits of “medical food,” for example, as well as others about absence management, the psychosocial problems of injured workers, social media for claims handling and numerous other intriguing topics.  Check out the sponsor list, too, for leads to companies with local ties.


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