What’s considered a disability? 10 causes every HR leader should know

When most people consider disability, they picture something catastrophic happening—an ill-timed dive off a high rock, or a speeding car hurtling into theirs—and, for the most part assume it can never happen to them.

That’s why human resources experts often find it challenging to convince their employees of the importance of disability insurance even though you know it’s a wise investment and more commonly used than most people assume. In fact, if you were to keep track of the 20-year-olds in today’s workforce, you’d find out that nearly 25 percent of them will be out of work for at least a year due to a health condition before they reach retirement age.

The statistic isn’t meant to alarm anyone, but rather to underscore the importance of making sure that your team members realize that disability insurance is for everyone. It can be the lifeline they need in the case of an unexpected condition—and yet at least 51 million working adults go without disability coverage, except for the basic coverage offered through Social Security.

That can be downright scary considering the precarious financial position of many Americans—and the skyrocketing cost of medical treatment. Any of these conditions can rob workers of the opportunity to earn enough to pay their bills, and just when they need the extra income the most.

Wondering what the top causes of long-term disability are? Your employees might be surprised to learn that they are relatively common occurrences.

  1. Muscoskeletal. This is a fancy way of saying “back pain,” something weekend warriors—or even just good Samaritans helping a friend move—can probably see themselves experiencing. It also covers other muscle, back, and joint disorders, such as arthritis. Together, these conditions account for nearly 30 percent of all long-term disabilities.
  2. Cancer. Yes, we can put this in the “catastrophic” category, but it’s actually more prevalent than you might imagine. In fact, more than 70,000 people in their 20s and 30s—the prime of their life—are diagnosed with cancers, including lymphoma, leukemia, testicular, melanoma, and breast cancer. Even if they are eventually cured, cancer treatment can decimate a family’s finances as they miss work to undergo treatment.
  3. Pregnancy. It’s hard to consider pregnancy as a “long-term” disability, but the bottom line is that pregnancy (think bed rest) and childbirth can infringe on work, especially if there are complications. In fact, about 1/10 of all claims involve a pregnancy-related issue, but by tapping long-term disability insurance, your employee and their little bundle of joy can be covered.
  4. Mental health issues. From anxiety to depression, mental health problems can take a toll, and fortunately, people are realizing that mental health is just as vital to treat as physical health. Since over a quarter of the population is diagnosed with one or more mental disorders each year, it’s easy to see how they can be a leading cause of long-term disability.
  5. Injuries. Nine percent of long-term disability claims come from the “injury” category, which covers everything from accident recovery to surgery, broken bones, and even poisoning.
  6. Cardiovascular issues. From heart attack to stroke, cardiovascular events strike unexpectedly and can prevent employees from coming to work for an indefinite period of time as they build their strength back up.
  7. Nervous system. This category encompasses a wide range of potential issues that include multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy, plus a range of additional eye and ear disorders. Even conditions that are often considered an older person’s disease, such as Alzheimer’s, can strike during peak earning years. In fact about 200,000 people contract the early-onset form of Alzheimer’s, which typically develops in their 40s and 50s.
  8. Infectious diseases. While headlines trumpet new types of infectious diseases, from zika to MRSA, this category also encompasses far less-exotic strains, such as bacteria that causes strep throat and viruses that bring on the flu. As more conditions become resistant to today’s hardest-working antibiotics, the threat of losing work due to infectious disease grows more prevalent.
  9. Digestive system. Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are just three of the better-known conditions in the digestive diseases category. Altogether there are 40 digestive conditions that plague more than 34 million Americans, causing them to miss work as they wrestle with treatment and prevention.
  10. Respiratory diseases. Asthma is one of the most common chronic respiratory conditions, which also include a wide variety of other lung-related ailments. It’s not a leap to assume that difficulty in breathing would lead to difficulty in working…illuminating the need for long-term disability insurance.

No one wants to sit down with employees to go over a list of illnesses or conditions they may eventually have, but the good news is that human resources professionals have the opportunity to expose their colleagues to one of the best-kept secrets in the benefit world—how disability insurance can help prevent them from losing a paycheck just when they need it most.