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Volume 36, Issue 2 (Spring 2014)

Sorry Doc, Your Disability Doesn't Count: Finding A Cure for Inconsistent Awards of LTD Benefits to Medical Professionals Recovering From Drug Addiction
by Lisa A Scarpa



            The purpose of this Note is to address the problem of inconsistent decisions among courts regarding whether a recovering addict’s risk of relapse constitutes a disability and thus qualifies the medical professional for long-term disability (LTD) benefits under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).  This Note posits that deferring to the language of an insurance policy to determine whether a recovering addict’s risk of relapse constitutes a disability eligible for LTD benefits is employment discrimination because such deference yields inconsistent results among courts, as portrayed above.


            This Note will provide a practical solution to eliminate inconsistent results and increase certainty for the courts as they decide future cases.  In order to do this, the issue of whether risk of relapse constitutes a disability will not be determined based on the specific language of an employee’s insurance policy, but rather the decision will be based on whether the employee is disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA).  Once the employee has shown they are disabled, they must also show that their employment position is in the medical field and involves access to drugs for the purposes of dispensing, administering, or prescribing.  Additionally, the substance the employee was previously addicted to must be accessible through their employment.


            Because recovering addicts working in the medical field are protected by the ADA and ADAAA when all of the above factors are satisfied, they are eligible for LTD benefits.  Discrimination occurs when LTD benefits are granted and denied at the discretion of an insurance provider.  While our culture generally stigmatizes drug addiction, public policy suggests that recovery addicts are entitled to LTD benefits, as the risk of relapse constitutes a disability.



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