COVID-19 and the Importance of Disability Income Insurance
The prospect of being unable to work due to an illness or injury may seem remote to many of us, particularly during our younger working years. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the chances of getting sick and not being able to work for an extended period, making disability income insurance (DI) more important than ever, regardless of your age.
Health insurance may pay for some of the medical expenses related to your illness, but it won't cover your lost wages if you can't work. And while many employers offer some form of sick leave, it may not last long enough to cover the length of time you can't work. Disability income insurance pays a portion of your salary if you are unable to work due to an injury or illness. But will DI cover you if you can't work due to COVID-19?
Will Disability Insurance Pay for COVID-19-Related Disabilities?
Generally, disability income insurance provides income benefits if you are unable to work for a medical reason. Before paying a claim for benefits, most DI policies require that you are unable to work because of a diagnosed medical condition, such as COVID-19, that has been verified by a doctor or other qualified medical professional.
If you are ill, or test positive for the virus, and are unable to work due to your illness or a medical quarantine (i.e., you can't work remotely), you should qualify for DI benefits. On the other hand, even if you tested positive and have a mild illness or are under a medical quarantine, but you have the ability to work, (i.e., you can work remotely), then you probably won't qualify for DI benefits. It is important to note that social quarantine (e.g., a government-mandated stay-at-home order) is not a medical quarantine and will not qualify for DI benefits. Likewise, if your employer shuts down temporarily or permanently due to the virus, you will not qualify for DI benefits.
Short-Term Disability Insurance vs. Long-Term Disability Insurance
There are two types of disability income insurance, short term and long term. While the provisions may vary by insurer, short-term DI policies usually have short elimination, or waiting periods (3-14 days) following the onset of your disability before the insurance pays. Although some policies offer benefits for up to two years, many contracts pay benefits for six months to one year.
Long-term DI policies have a longer elimination period (typically 90 days), but may pay benefits up to age 65, although, in certain instances long-term DI may pay lifetime benefits. Disability policies typically pay benefits that equal 50% to 70% of your gross monthly base salary. A monthly maximum benefit may apply.
For disability protection related to COVID-19, short-term DI should be enough if you miss work due to a medical quarantine. However, if you're unable to work for a longer time due to complications from the virus, long-term DI would be needed.
A complete statement of coverage, including exclusions, exceptions, and limitations, is found only in the policy. It should be noted that carriers have the discretion to raise their rates and remove their products from the marketplace. Guarantees are subject to the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuer.
Where Can You Get Disability Insurance?
In general, access to disability benefits can come from private insurance (individual or group DI policies purchased from an insurance company) or government insurance (social insurance provided through federal or state governments).
Private disability insurance refers to disability insurance that you purchase through an insurance company. Many types of private disability insurance exist, including individual DI policies, group policies, group association policies, and riders attached to life insurance policies.
Private disability policies usually offer more comprehensive benefits to insured individuals than social insurance. Individually owned disability income policies may offer the most coverage (at a greater cost), followed by group policies offered by an employer or association. Check with your employer or professional association to see if you are eligible to participate in a group plan. Even if your employer offers disability insurance, it's probably short-term DI and may not provide benefits if a disability due to COVID-19 lasts for more than three months. For disabilities that last longer or are permanent, you'll need a long-term DI policy to provide benefits while you can't work.