Living with myasthenia gravis can be very difficult as the disease progresses. With limited treatment options, patients with myasthenia gravis may be unable to work because of their disease and its related complications. Patients who find themselves unable to work because of their myasthenia gravis may qualify for long term disability (LTD) benefits. To help you get through this tough financial time, consider applying for long term disability. The insurance company will review their claim to see if they qualify under the conditions of that plan.
What is Myasthenia Gravis?
Myasthenia gravis means “grave muscle weakness.” It is an autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the muscles, which can lead to problems moving, eating, and breathing. Weakness of the muscles worsens after exercise and improves with rest for people with myasthenia gravis, though the muscle weakness may never fully go away.
The immune system attacks the connections between nerves and muscles, which prevents the nerves from correctly controlling the muscles. This can lead to overall muscle weakness or weakness in certain parts of the body. It may be difficult for the person to move their arms or legs, breathe, swallow, move their facial muscles, or control their eyelids. Common visible symptoms include dropping eyelids or facial muscles.
Myasthenia gravis has also been related to people with an enlarged thymus gland. In an average body, this gland is used to promote healthy development through puberty when it starts to shrink, eventually disappearing. An enlarged thymus gland into adulthood has been linked to myasthenia gravis. It most commonly occurs in younger women and older men, but anyone may be affected by myasthenia gravis.
Symptoms of Myasthenia Gravis
Myasthenia gravis is common in adults, both men, and women. Symptoms include:
- Weakness in the eyes muscles, arms, legs, fingers, and neck
- Blurry vision
- Drooping of the eyelids
- Difficulty swallowing
- Impaired speech
Diagnosing Myasthenia Gravis
Diagnosis begins with a physical and neuromuscular exam in a doctor’s office. The doctor will test the reflexes as well as muscle strength, coordination, and control of speech and eye movement.
Additional diagnostic tests include:
- Blood tests, particularly for acetylcholine receptor antibodies and anti-MuSK antibody;
- Electromyography (EMG);
- Diagnostic imaging like MRIs and CAT scans; and
- Pulmonary function testing.
Treating Myasthenia Gravis
While there is no cure for myasthenia gravis, treatment can improve symptoms. Medications such as anticholinesterase medications and immunosuppressive drugs are frequently prescribed. Plasmapheresis may be used to remove harmful antigens in blood. Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) adds antibodies from healthy people, which can keep the immune system from attacking itself. Thymectomy, where the thymus gland is surgically removed, has been shown to drastically reduce symptoms in some individuals.
A myasthenic crisis may occur, which is when the muscles that control breathing do not function correctly. Individuals in myasthenic crisis require a ventilator to help them breathe or they will die.
Applying for Long Term Disability with Myasthenia Gravis
When applying for long term disability for myasthenia gravis, it’s important to keep good records. Your notes will be very useful when questions come up from the insurance company.
Keep A Journal
Keeping a detailed record of your medical treatment and symptoms is the best way to build a strong disability claim. Use your journal to track your symptoms daily, write down your doctor’s visits (date and time) and what was discussed at your visits, dates that additional exams were ordered, results of your tests like MRI, CT scans, edrophonium test, and pulmonary tests, blood work results, medications you were prescribed and if they are causing you any side effects.
If your doctor’s office calls to reschedule an appointment, write that down and ask them for a reason. Also, write down who you speak with. Insurance companies will request your doctor’s appointment records to see if you have missed any appointments. They will try to use that against you, but if you have a note in your journal describing who called and why they needed to reschedule, then you have proof the rescheduled appointment wasn’t your fault.
Tracking medication side effects and discontinuances are just as important. If your doctor takes you off medications due to severe side effects, be sure to write down the date and reason in your journal. This will help prevent the insurance company from claiming that you stopped taking your medication as prescribed.
Familiarize Yourself With Your Policy
Be sure to request a copy of your disability policy from your employer as soon as you know you will be filing a claim. Take the time to read through your entire policy to be sure you understand what your insurance company qualifies as a disability and what they do not. Make notes in your journal of timelines. This is critical. If you missed a deadline, your claim would most likely be denied.
Disability Evaluation of Myasthenia Gravis
Definition of Disability
Most LTD plans define disability as a medical condition that 1) prevents an individual from carrying out their job responsibilities during the initial two years of the policy, and 2) renders them incapable of working in virtually any capacity thereafter. It’s essential to note that the definition of “disability” varies across LTD plans. It is recommended that you thoroughly review your specific policy to understand how “disability” is defined.
Assessing Disability for Individuals with Myasthenia Gravis
To claim disability due to myasthenia gravis, you’ll need to demonstrate that the condition inhibits you from performing your previous job or, based on the specific terms of the long-term disability insurance, any other job for which you might receive training. Limitations due to myasthenia gravis may include one or more of the following:
- Limited ability to control two extremities, leading to extreme difficulty balancing, walking, or using the arms;
- Reduced function of the bulbar muscles, leading to needing parenteral or enteral nutrition or use of a ventilator; and
- Marked problems with:
- Interacting with others; and/or
- Finishing tasks.
What the Insurance Company Needs From You and Your Medical Providers
You need to tell the insurance company about any doctors you have treated with for your myasthenia gravis. The insurance company will need all relevant medical records to get the full picture of your health. You should request your records and provide them to the insurance company yourself. Include physician notes, diagnostic test results, blood tests, etc.
You will also need to provide proof of how you are affected by your myasthenia gravis symptoms. The insurance company will assess the severity of your symptoms and consider your residual functional capacity (RFC) to determine the extent of your symptoms and how they may keep you from working. Your RFC is used to determine what jobs you may still be qualified to perform.
Working with a Disability Attorney
A knowledgeable disability attorney will give you the best chance of getting the disability benefits you deserve for your myasthenia gravis. Even if you have previously been denied, that does not mean you are out of options. It is not unusual to be denied the first time you apply. You have the right to file an appeal and try to get more information that may help your case. Getting expert help is often the difference between being denied and being approved for benefits.
The Ortiz Law Firm has successfully represented people in disability cases across the United States. If you would like to talk to one of our experienced disability lawyers about your myasthenia gravis and its impact on your ability to work, call us at (888) 321-8131. We would be happy to evaluate your case and to discuss how to help you through the appeal process.