Doctors’ group says NFL shut down payments for retired players’ care to hide disability, brain injury

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A scrum between a Chicago area medical group and the National Football League has touched down in Chicago’s courts, with the operators of the clinics accusing the NFL of leaning on insurers to cut their payments after the clinicians began to side with retired players seeking disability status for brain injuries and other maladies.

On May 2, the NFL sought to hand off to federal court a lawsuit filed by Advanced Physicians SC, a medical group with locations throughout the Chicago area.

The lawsuit had been filed in March in Cook County Circuit Court, accusing the NFL of improperly interfering with Advanced Physicians’ business by

The action comes as Advanced Physicians pursues litigation based on similar claims against the NFL’s insurer, Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., in federal court in the Northern District of Texas.

In that case, a federal judge last month refused the clinic’s demands the NFL and its insurer turn over documents the clinic had sought to back its legal claims. The judge said those documents were protected by attorney-client privilege.

In the case filed in Cook County court, Advanced Physicians again leveled much the same allegations.

Advanced Physicians said it has treated more than 200 retired and former NFL players since 2007. The complaint does not identify any of the players to whom the clinic has provided treatment.

According to the complaint, Advanced’s services to the retired players included “x-rays, MRIs, chiropractic services, physical therapy, physician examinations, pain management services, and orthopedic evaluations.”

As part of their relationship with the clinic, Advanced said the players “executed irrevocable assignment of benefits to Advanced,” which authorized the clinic to pursue payment for the services rendered from the NFL and its insurer.

However, in 2015, Advanced said insurance claim processor Cigna, allegedly acting at the direction of the NFL, audited Advanced’s claims, but then began to outright “deny all of Advanced’s claims as work-related.”

“The NFL was upset that some of the retired players Advanced treated were using diagnostic tests performed by Advanced as evidence of a disability under the NFL’s disability plan,” Advanced said in its complaint.

“Because the NFL does not want to pay its former players disability payments under the disability plan, which is funded equally by the NFL member teams, it decided to retaliate against Advanced for providing diagnostic services to former players.”

Advanced further asserted the NFL’s alleged direction to Cigna to deny the claims comes as part of the NFL’s efforts to defend itself against legal claims concerning players’ brain injuries.

“The NFL does not want independent medical providers like Advanced to treat players and provide independent and honest medical opinions about a player’s brain health,” Advanced said. “The NFL made the decision to try and economically harm Advanced so that Advanced would no longer treat former NFL players and their dependents.”

Advanced asserted the NFL’s actions have cost it further business from NFL retirees and their family members, leading its creditors to demand immediate debt repayment.

Advanced Physicians is represented in the action by attorneys D. Todd Matthews, of the firms of Gori Julian & Associates P.C., of Edwardsville; Steven E. Aldous, of the firm of Forshey & Prostok LLC, of Dallas; and Jason C. Webster, of Houston.

In its motion, filed May 2 in Chicago federal court, the NFL asserts Advanced’s lawsuit does not belong in Cook County Circuit Court, but rather in federal court. The NFL noted the similarities between the new legal action and the clinic’s pending action against Connecticut General, and said the state law claims are preempted by two federal laws concerning retiree health benefits and labor-management relations.

The NFL has not yet responded in court to the claims presented by Advanced Physicians.

The NFL is represented in the action by attorney John K. Theis and others with the firms of Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP, of Chicago, and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Field LLP, of Washington, D.C.