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Aetna Won't Cover Needed Physical Therapy, Suit Says

October 10, 2019

By Adam Lidgett | Law360 (October 9, 2019) -- Aetna Life Insurance Co. is violating federal benefits law by being stingy when it comes to covering physical therapy and taking an overly narrow view of what qualifies as "medically necessary," according to a proposed class action filed in Connecticut federal court.

Connecticut resident Dennis E. Curtis — who is a beneficiary of a health plan through his wife’s employer, Yale University — filed an Employee Retirement Income Security Act suit in federal court Tuesday, claiming Aetna has been declining to cover his physical therapy even though a doctor told him it was a medical necessity. Yale was not named as a party to the suit.

According to Curtis, Aetna does this by way of internal policy bulletins that limit the definition of medical necessity. Those bulletins, however, aren’t actually part of the plans, Curtis claimed.

“The [clinical policy bulletins] purport to set forth Aetna's view of when medical services for physical therapy and other forms of rehabilitative therapy should be deemed medically necessary, and Aetna denies benefits for such therapy services based upon the definitions of medically necessary in the CPBs, even though the services qualify as medically necessary pursuant to the definition of that term set forth in the plans,” the complaint said.

Curtis said he started physical therapy in July 2016 to help deal with complications resulting from various conditions, including neurological issues, and surgeries.

He said that while Aetna initially gave the go-ahead for treatment coverage, the company has been denying coverage for physical therapy since April 2018, even though his doctors have still been prescribing the treatment. Curtis said Aetna used a policy bulletin that says physical therapy is only a medical necessity when it will substantially improve the condition the therapy is being used to treat in a specified time period.

“As a result of defendant Aetna's impermissible policy and practice of denying benefits for therapy services based on non-plan provisions in its CPBs, Mr. Curtis has been wrongly denied benefits under the Yale Plan for medically necessary physical therapy ordered by his physicians,” the complaint said.
Curtis is seeking to represent a class of any participant or beneficiary of an ERISA group medical plan for which Aetna is a claims administrator, as well as a related subclass.

Representatives for Curtis and Aetna did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Curtis is represented by David S. Golub and Sarah Arnold Ricciardi of Silver Golub & Teitell LLP.

Counsel information for Aetna was not immediately available Wednesday.

The case is Curtis v. Aetna Life Insurance Co., case number 3:19-cv-01579, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.

To read the class action filing, please click the link below:

AETNA Complaint - 1 101019

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