Frankel & Newfield attorneys represent many dentists with their disability claims, so we were really pleased to see The New York Times article “How’s the Economy Doing? Watch the Dentists.” We know that dentists are in a particularly rough spot as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are more vulnerable, because the place where they do their work—the human mouth—is where much of the coronavirus spread begins.
When the CDC said to close their doors, they did, and some closed even earlier because they were unable to obtain enough personal protective equipment. By mid-April, nearly half of all dentists had furloughed their staff. Only emergency patients were being seen. But now, in mid-June, dental offices are back, staff have been re-hired and the dentists are back to work.
How has the coronavirus impacted patients? Patient volumes are reportedly at about half to a quarter of the normal rate. Not only does the dentist or the dental hygienist treat patients in very close contact, but the use of ultrasonic cleaning equipment causes patient saliva to become aerosolized. Some dentists have been reported to be doing cleanings without the ultrasonic cleaning equipment for patient safety.
Our optics are focused on the dentists’ disability claims, and the coronavirus’ impact is significant here.
Dentists often go on partial disability, especially when the disability is an injured neck, shoulder, wrist or back that occurs because of repetitive motion or stooping over patients. How will the disability insurance company calculate payments, when the dentist’s income has been eviscerated because of the pandemic? It’s an opportunity to make a massive cut in benefits.
What about the dentist who has a diagnosis of an underlying condition that puts her or him at a significantly higher risk of dying from COVID-19? They are not disabled, but their life is at risk. Do they go to work and hope not to be exposed, or file an environmental exposure disability claim?
We have a success story with a dentist who becomes sick every time she is exposed to the chemicals and particulates that are released into the air during typical dental treatment. The disability insurance company denied the claim and even tried to build a defense that our client was having a psychological response to going to work. We know what challenges a COVID-19 exposure risk disability claim is going to face. We succeeded in developing support for her “environmental disability” and securing her benefits.
We are also seeing a lot of disability insurance companies threatening to deny claims if the medical records cannot be supplied by a certain firm date – this despite the current environment and doctors’ offices just beginning again to see patients. Treating physicians and clerical staff who might otherwise be slow to provide these medical records have now shuttled this task to the lowest priority. What happens when the claim is denied because records cannot be obtained?
If you are a dentist who was considering filing a claim before the pandemic, or filed a claim just as your office was closing, you may already know how difficult the battle will be. We can help- call our office at 877-583-2524 for a free assessment of your situation by an experienced disability insurance attorney.