Prudential fails to recognize pain caused by fibromyalgia as a long term disability

In February of 2006, Mrs. Lanoue was a table games floor person for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and had been since October of 1997.  She was covered under the long-term disability plan issued and funded by Prudential Insurance Company of America (NYSE:PRU).  In April of 2006, Mrs. Lanoue filed for long-term disability, claiming to have chronic pain, fatigue and fibromyalgia.  Her claim included an employee statement and an attending physician’s statement (APS) from rheumatologist, Dr. Sandeep Varma.

On August 1, 2006 Mrs. Lanoue submitted a comprehensive claimant statement where she complained of fibromyalgia, chronic pain and fatigue.  The initial claim was denied, and Mrs. Lanoue appealed in October of 2006 through Prudential’s appeal system.  With her appeal, she provided several medical records, including an evaluation completed by Dr. Varma stating that Mrs. Lanoue was tender at 18 trigger points associated with Fibromyalgia and experienced a ‘self reported pain disability’ indices ranging from eight to ten on a one to ten scale of pain.

Prudential then referred the case to an internist and rheumatologist, Dr. Paul Howard, an independent medical reviewer.  It was Dr. Howard’s conclusion that Mrs. Lanoue suffered from a chronic pain syndrome consistent with Fibromyalgia, but that it “impart[s] no functional impairment.” He stated further that “The presence of any trigger point tenderness does not translate into a functional loss in the absence of corresponding findings of functional deficits. Her complaints of pain are self reported and are not substantiated by any clinical or diagnostic findings from any of her medical providers.”

Based on Dr. Howard’s medical file review, Prudential denied Mrs. Lanoue’s first appeal on January 10, 2007.  In July of 2007, Mrs. Lanoue appealed the decision again, submitting additional medical records and statements from Dr. Varma.  Dr. Varma addressed Dr. Howard’s statements, replying that the debilitating fatigue and pain in Mrs. Lanoue’s medical records were “not addressed by Dr. Howard, yet in my opinion, they are the very things that would interfere with her ability to function in a work environment.” Dr. Varma also stated that in his opinion, Mrs. Lanoue was unable to stand on her feet long enough in order to perform the job, and also that her fatigue and ‘brain fog’ would prevent her from properly supervising.

August 3, 2007, Prudential denied Mrs. Lanoue second appeal, relying heavily on statements in Dr. Howard’s report.  Having exhausted all of her appeals, Mrs. Lanoue filed a lawsuit seeking her long-term disability benefits.  she took her case to the While Prudential based their case on Dr. Howard’s examination of the records and claimed that Mrs. Lanoue did not show enough signs of physical limitation in order to qualify for disability, Judge Margolis of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut disagreed with Prudential.  Judge Margolis concluded that Prudential failed to consider factors relevant to Fibromyalgia as well as the effect it has on the claimant’s ability to work properly.

Dr. Varma supplied medical charts showing tenderness in 18 of 18 trigger areas. If Dr. Howard were correct, then patients with Fibromyalgia,  no matter how debilitating,  could not be considered disabled unless some other form of physical issue were shown.  However, the court maintains that pain and chronic fatigue are disabling on their own without the need for further physical evidence.  The court weighed the decision as to whether or not Prudential looked at all factors concerning Mrs. Lanoue and her medical records, and with that decision in mind, the court ruled for Mrs. Lanoue.  The decision reinforces the fact that patients can be completely disabled through pain from Fibromyalgia and other diseases alone without the addition of other physical signs.

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