By Ted Norwood, General Counsel and Director of Representation, Integrated Benefits, Inc.
According to the Council for Disability Awareness, half of those who don’t work for the government have some form of employer-paid disability insurance (short-term disability only, long-term disability only, or both STD and LTD). These benefits are important because 25 percent of today’s 20-year-olds will at some point miss a year or more of work due to medical problems.
For businesses, as companies become leaner, individual employees become more vital and more difficult to replace. Replacing an experienced employee is very expensive, and long term, losing employees is difficult.
Given that, an increasing number of employers recognize the value of employee well-being. In fact, many companies now recognize the value of caring for employees as people, not just assets.
Providing private disability insurance benefits in the workplace is an important way to care for employee financial health. But, about half of workers in the private sector do not have these benefits. Instead, if they are unable to work for an extended period of time, they often must rely on the Social Security Administration’s Disability Income (SSDI) program—if they qualify—for income.
In this article, we will look at the advantages and disadvantages of the SSA’s disability program from an employer perspective. Since you have to eat your veggies before dessert, let’s start with the disadvantages of the SSDI program and then end on a high note.
Three Disadvantages of Relying on SSDI for Employee Disability Coverage
The three main disadvantages to relying on SSDI to provide disability insurance to your employees are the wait, the challenges, and the lack of good recovery resources.
The wait time to receive Social Security disability payments is almost unconscionable. The average wait before your employee receives the first payment is 15 months. Many applicants wait two years or more.
During this long wait, employees relying on SSDI often have no income. Spouses may work, but even in the best cases, the lost income is often devastating. They may get food stamps or Medicaid in some places, but in others they may not. Even though the SSA does provide retroactive payments on its disability awards, the wait is so long that many claimants have lost their savings, liquidated retirement accounts, and have seen their personal relationships deteriorate.
SSDI does help people, but the long wait creates problems for claimants. It is certainly not what a conscientious employer wants to see for their dedicated workers.
SSDI is Hard to Get
Qualification for SSDI is hard. Social Security does not offer an own-occupation definition of disability nor does it consider prior income. For skilled workers, this makes qualification very difficult. In fact, most claimants need a lawyer to represent them during the application process. Without representation, the odds of receiving benefits are much lower.
The application process is often difficult to navigate and confusing. The SSA repeatedly requests the same information and requires completion of long forms. Given the high standard of disability, a misplaced word can hurt a claimant’s application, which already only has a one in three chance of receiving an award at the initial level.
Not only does it take an incredibly long time to get benefits, it is also very difficult to qualify. Leaving your employees to rely on this Byzantine system is certainly not an advantage to a compassionate employer.
SSDI Lacks Rehabilitation Resources
SSDI has poor resources for vocational rehabilitation or job placement, and no resources at all for claimants during the wait for a decision. This makes it harder for people to recover and get back to work.
Because of the long wait, many claimants miss out on vital windows to improve their chances of recovery and return to work. By the time the SSA awards disability payments, many claims are permanent due to the effects of such a long layoff and the lack of rehabilitation resources.
Certainly, SSDI can provide income to your disabled employees, but relying on it leaves them with a long wait and long odds, making it less likely they will be able to rejoin your team or find alternative work.
SSDI is Not All Bad News for Employers
Although SSDI does not do much for employers on its own, it is certainly better than nothing. It does eventually provide Medicare and annual cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for disabled claimants.
Those are important benefits, as many employees lose their health insurance during the wait for SSDI. Annual COLAs help people with disabilities keep up with the economy. Every bit matters once workers are on a fixed income.
Despite its problems, the SSDI program is a successful program designed to help protect American workers. Still, there is one more major advantage SSDI provides to employers.
SSDI acts like a subsidy to group long-term disability insurance, making disability policies affordable and an excellent value.
Group long-term disability policies protect employees from the disadvantages of SSDI.
- These LTD policies usually start with an own-occupation period of two years, allowing the employee to receive benefits immediately.
- Group LTD policies can be structured to pay higher benefits than SSDI does.
- Group LTD policies have better opportunities to provide vocational rehabilitation and return to work services.
- Plus, most insurers will provide a lawyer for claimants to assist with their SSDI applications.
Although claimants often cannot double dip LTD and SSDI, SSDI still provides them with health insurance and cost-of-living adjustments. These benefits are the real opportunity SSDI provides for employers.
 https://www.consumerslife.com/EmployersCLIC/Products-for-Employers/Group-Long-Term-Disability-Insurance.aspx ; https://www.policygenius.com/disability-insurance/learn/long-term-disability-insurance-faqs/