9/11 Victims and God Bless UnumProvident
From 1999-2001 UnumProvident operated well outside any reasonable or ethical standard set by the NAIC’s Model Acts or state insurance laws. Claims continued to be indiscriminately denied by newly appointed “Consultants” who also participated, along with Managers, in the company’s MICP (Management Incentive Compensation Program). It payed to support Unum’s profitability targets and management raked in thousands in annual bonuses. Claims handlers weren’t so lucky and received nothing except for Dave Gilbert’s gold chocolate coins and on-site performance awards.
The statement, “It’s hard to get people to do the right thing when their money depends on not doing it” rang true enough, and although the claims area continued in eternal chaos and backlog, many ERISA claimants were denied benefits for no other reason than the company didn’t want to pay. Mercilessly, no one seemed to care that the American middle class was deliberately deprived of money in the form of benefits they rightfully deserved.
Mary Fuller, the then VP of Claims told an entire department to, “Not inform claimants of their appeal rights on the phone since Unum’s appeal department was over run and couldn’t process any more appeals.” While assurances within the company suggested that employees hang on to their worthless stock options, many employees recognized the reality of devaluation and threw their hands up in disgust. I was actually lucky in recognizing the potential devaluation and exercised my shares as soon as they vested when Unum’s stock was still $55 per share. Others were not so lucky, and Mary Fuller was eventually fired.
STD and Life Waiver claims were reassigned to claims handlers who had no idea how to manage them. Shredders were strategically placed within each unit to “shred non-essential” documents, and boxes of documents were handed off to individuals presumably to take home. When I asked if I could take the box of documents I was told a stern “no.” In fact, the senior claims specialist wouldn’t even let me see what documents were in the box.
When Dave Gilbert’s feet hit the claims floor to replace Mary Fuller most claims handlers shook their heads in disbelief at his inexperience with claims. Dave’s greatest contribution as VP was giving out chocolate gold coins to claims personnel when they denied high reserve claims. The unit needed leadership, not a claims Easter Bunny bearing chocolate!
UnumProvident began managing 9/11 claims in “the American way” by waiving employment records and application forms normally submitted by victims. Since Unum sold policies to Morgan Stanley and The Mercantile, 9/11 victims had no records to submit and there was nothing to verify since all had been destroyed. On the surface UnumProvident appeared to be “the 9/11 Savior” of disability claimants were it not for the fact that the company used its position to pay 9/11 claims without verification as a marketing tool. “Look at us! We’re the good guys!”, Unum said to the American people but unfortunately it didn’t last long.
At the year anniversary of 9/11 Harold Chandler forced all employees company wide to gather in various conference rooms for a re-showing of the tapes of 9/11 including people jumping out of buildings and running through smoke and debris. Most employees in the Portland location attended in disgust, and some refused to watch the hour-long footage of one of the most horrible of American tragedies.
Still, during his concluding speech, Harold Chandler actually had the cajoles to say, “God Bless America and God Bless UnumProvident”
With that most of us hit the bathroom and literally puked.
In 2002 Unum’s managers in the psyche/cardiac unit attended a meeting wherein it was discussed that UnumProvident had been paying 9/11 claims long enough. Therefore, management “decided” that all 9/11 claims were to be presented at roundtable so that it could be figured out how to deny them. Although Dave Gilbert appeared to be leading the way, managers and consultants were equally elated since denying 9/11 claims would significantly bolster their progress toward profitability targets.
Unum frequently denies these allegations because there is nothing written to support what is discussed at unit meetings between managers and their direct reports. In fact, most of what claims handlers were (are) directed to do is discussed in weekly unit meetings and never documented. It doesn’t surprise me that Unum continues to deny various unfair claims practices because nothing is ever written down. But alas, I was there.
As a Lead Customer Care Specialist I had been managing 9/11 claims and was put off by the directive “to deny” as many 9/11 victims as I could. One claim involved a gentleman who was so near to one of the Towers when it collapsed that he was still pulling bits and pieces of the building out from underneath his skin. The building imploded so forcefully that it imbedded pieces of material into his body and was still making its way out a year later. My manager wanted that claim denied.
Another woman who made it down from the 15th floor was still emotionally disabled and refused to go outside of her home. Still, another claimant told me he now lived in New Jersey and couldn’t bring himself to cross the bridge into New York and return to work. Another claimant had been in a nearby store and climbed out on top of severed arms, legs, and other body parts after the Towers collapsed. He was still an emotional wreck and in counseling but my “consultant” told me to present the claim at roundtable so the managers could figure out how to close it.
Finally, one of my claimants who had been pregnant at the time, and who had escaped from the 57th floor, delivered her baby but refused to care for it. Her claim was also denied.
Unum’s management did in fact roundtable all of the psyche/cardiac 9/11 claims and denied the majority of them. Most of my claimants telephoned to say, “How can Unum do this? I’m still not well.” In fact, when my Consultant forced me to call one of my clients and demand immediate medical update information under threat of denying the claim that very day, the claimants husband got on the phone and called me every nasty name he could think of. He wasn’t wrong, but later he complained to my manager, and I took a hit for the company.
Unum’s treatment of 9/11 victims signifies the extent to which the company capitalized on initially doing the right thing, followed by doing exactly the wrong thing to rid the company of an expensive block of claims. After the Chandler “God Bless UnumProvident” speech, most employees settled silently into complacency to keep their jobs. Not too many people liked the company anymore and began looking for other opportunities.
It was really a very sad environment to work in, and although I continued to go up the chain of command attempting to change UnumProvident’s unfair claims practices my complaints were consistently met with, “Shut up! Stop criticizing claim protocols! There’s nothing we can do about it and you’re complaining isn’t helping. Be quiet….be quiet…..be quiet…..”
Some employees, however, began looking for ways to blow the whistle. outside the company. Although I wasn’t involved initially in blowing the whistle on Unum, once the 60 Minutes and NBC Dateline exposes aired, I quickly found the biggest whistle I could find.
Stay tuned for part IV – “Busted”