What You Should Know for Your First Open Enrollment

Open enrollment is taking place across the United States, and like millions of workers, you must submit your choices by a certain deadline. Many younger employees, however, are unsure about what types of coverage to select and how much and are tempted to wait until the last minute. This can lead you to decisions you may regret and financial setbacks.

 

Instead, take a minute to explore why benefits deserve your full attention and how to make the right choices.

 

Why Benefits Are Worth Your Attention

 

It’s tempting to procrastinate about benefits enrollment and you’re not alone. According to a recent MetLife survey, among young respondents (ages 21-38), about one in five spend only a few minutes reviewing benefits choices before making selections. And nearly half said they dread making annual benefit enrollment decisions equally as much as asking for a raise.

 

There are many reasons why you should think carefully about your benefits, including:

 

Benefits are part of your total compensation package. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for every $2 employers spend in wages and salaries, they spend an additional $1 in benefits.

  • . Many employers are investing in their employees through generous benefits programs in order to attract the best employees, so you should take advantage of all they offer you.
  • Unexpected illness and accidents CAN happen. Per the Council for Disability Awareness (CDA), more than one in four of today’s 20-year-olds can expect to be out of work at least a year before they reach retirement age. This underscores why benefits like disability insurance are critical.
  • Benefits protect your savings. Most experts say people should have enough money to cover three to six months of living expenses if you’re unable to work, yet according to The CDA, only about half of adults in the U.S. have enough to cover just three months. In the MetLife survey, more than a quarter of young respondents said they could barely cover two weeks. Benefits help reduce financial burdens and anxiety, keeping money in your pocket.

 

How To Make the Right Choices

 

Especially for employees early in their career, being thoughtful about open enrollment can make the difference between achieving short- and long-term financial goals and pushing them off.

 

  • Assess your personal situation. Take an honest look at your lifestyle, health, family history and more before making selections. Consider your financial goals that could be thrown off by unexpected expenses. Many employers offer legal services, for example, that help reduce the cost of hiring a lawyer for speeding tickets, wills or landlord disputes.
  • Have meaningful conversations. Talk to trusted friends, colleagues or family for advice. MetLife’s survey found that just one-quarter of young people asked for advice from a friend before making benefit decisions. Conversations with people you trust can help you understand the personal value of benefits and provide insights you haven’t considered on how they relate to your life.
  • Do the research. Carefully read the full benefits package, as well as any additional material your employer may have available, such as videos and online guidance tools. You might be surprised about new offerings, or what existing options cover. For example, disability insurance might support mental and emotional illnesses, and some companies may offer auto and home insurance, or tuition reimbursement.

 

The bottom line is that employers offer benefits to stay competitive and help employees thrive. It’s up to employees, however, to make the most of the package to achieve their goals. By paying attention to your package, you can select the right “sweet spot” of benefits to build a better life.




Educating Employees About Disability Insurance? Ask Them 5 Questions

HR leader educating a group of employees.Employers are offering more and more voluntary benefits—and workers want these benefits. A recent study showed that nearly one third of eligible employees were signing up for voluntary offerings (that’s a higher participation rate than in earlier years). 

Amy Hollis is the national leader of voluntary benefits for HR consultancy Willis Towers Watson. She recently spoke to Workforce about their recent survey. It shows that 70 percent of employers claim voluntary benefits will be an important part of their value proposition in coming years. “Companies are using voluntary benefits to enrich their offerings without additional cost,” she said.

While there is a win-win element to this—it’s a good economic choice for both employers and employees—the story finishes with a stark warning. Rob Shestack, chairman and CEO of the Voluntary Benefits Association in Philadelphia says that HR teams need to be ready to educate. “The most frustrating thing is when HR makes the effort to provide these programs then does passive enrollment,” he says. “It’s like saying you don’t care if people use them or not.”

When it comes to disability insurance, education is that much more important. James Reid of CDA member company MetLife argues something similar in a story in Benefit News:While employees have a general idea of the benefits they use most often (medical, dental or vision), they don’t always grasp the value or need for some of the other benefits which may be available to them (disability or accident insurance, for example).”

Disability insurance is one of the most critical forms of coverage for working Americans—and one of most overlooked. Part of the problem is that people simply don’t understand how relevant it is for modern life

Here are five questions you can ask as a framework for understanding what disability insurance is: 

1. What does disability mean in this context?

Many people hear the word disability and assume it only means catastrophic health issues. In fact, disability can refer to a broken leg from a skiing accident, a pulled back while cleaning out your garage, a cancer diagnosis, or a pregnancy that can put an employee out of work for days, weeks, or months at a time.

Share the five most common reasons that keep people out of work for long periods: Pain in the back and neck, cancer, complications from pregnancy, and mental health issues all rank before accidental injuries, which many assume is the leading cause of disability. You can also share infographics.

2. What are the statistical chances of becoming disabled?

Eighty percent of us live with optimism bias. That’s to say we don’t have a realistic understanding of the risk of becoming ill or injured. This is particularly at work with the younger generations who have grown up with some of the most supportive parents in modern history.

These are the numbers: According to the Social Security Administration, more than one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will be out of work for a year or more for a variety of reasons before they reach normal retirement age. This includes common health conditions such as knee, shoulder, or back injuries, cancer, heart problems, or depression.

Add to that the fact that nearly six percent of workers every year will experience a short-term disability due to illness, injury, or pregnancy. Three quarters of these claims last up to two and a half months, and the rest can last for up to six months or a year.

3. How would you pay your bills?

Ask rhetorical questions as you educate: Will an employee be able to pay their mortgage, phone bill or contribute to their health insurance or retirement plans should a pregnancy, illness, or injury take them out of work for a few days, weeks, or more? This is about laying the foundations for their long-term financial stability.  

Data from the Federal Reserve shows that 40 percent of Americans do not have enough savings to pay for an unexpected $400 bill. Disability insurance pays a portion of someone’s salary when they need to miss work due to an illness, injury, or having a baby. For those who are single, disability insurance is the second most important insurance they can carry after health insurance. And if employees have a family that depends upon them, this insurance gives them an income stream if they need to leave work.

4. What does Workers’ Comp and SSDI cover?

Employees need a realistic understanding of the various safety nets that are in place should they become ill or injured—so they can make an informed decision:

  • Workers’ Compensation: Workers’ Comp only applies to accidents done on the worksite. Disabling illnesses or injuries are much more likely to be non-occupational in origin, which would rule out that coverage.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): The Social Security Administration provides Social Security disability benefits for eligible individuals who have a disability that lasts for one year or longer. Many applicants are denied due to a lack of work history, lack of medical evidence, the temporary nature of their condition, or the fact that people may still be able to work outside of their profession. There are three important things to bear in mind: 1) workers who become disabled off-the-job won’t always qualify for SSDI, 2) they can face average wait times of 600 days for a hearing (that’s nearly two years), and 3) if they do eventually get benefits, the monthly amount (averaging around $1,200, based on the most recent data) probably isn’t enough to help them keep up with their ongoing expenses.  

5. If you want to start a family—what is your financial plan for maternity leave?

If your company doesn’t offer paid maternity leave, this is an important point to raise with women in the workforce. Disability insurance is a critical benefit for many new mothers in the U.S. Indeed, pregnancy is the most common cause of short-term disability (STD) claims. Plans typically cover two weeks before and six weeks after a routine pregnancy. 

Here’s an important note: One of the major differences between pregnancy and other types of disability claims is predictability. For a healthy woman, purchasing coverage through their workplace in anticipation of a planned pregnancy can be a fairly easy transaction. The key is that they buy coverage before they become pregnant. This way there is little risk of underwriting issues or denial of their claim due to a pre-existing condition limitation. (Read more on this here.)

By asking these questions, you can broaden the minds of your employees and give them the larger context of how disability insurance works in real life. That way, it isn’t just vague words on a list in a company intranet.  

To learn more about disability insurance, or to offer your colleagues further reading, guide them to our new consumer microsite: RealityCheckup.org  




Ready for Open Enrollment Season? Three Steps To Getting In Shape for a Great Season

For HR folks, the fall is sort of like their own version of the retail holiday season or the big football final…that’s because it’s open enrollment, the time when employees are able to make major changes to their benefits plans without penalties.

And just like retailers start planning their holiday promotions early, so should the HR team begin planning how they will communicate both the existence of open enrollment and what it means to their team.

Here’s how to make the open enrollment period smooth for you and beneficial for your employees.

 

  1. Finalize your options.

Chances are good that you have already been working on determining what benefits you will be offering and the rate at which you will cover them. For example, maybe this is the year you add a wellness benefit or pet insurance. You also want to make sure you have a robust slate of health choices that might include dental, vision, and alternative medicine; as well as insurance, such as life and short-term and long-term disability.

With employment rates continuing to be high, benefits are just one additional way that you can strengthen your position in attracting and retaining employees.

 

  1. Create your communications material.

Even if you have the most admirable benefits plan in the world, it won’t help if your employees don’t know or understand what’s available to them—and one survey found that one-third of them do not!

From co-pays to premiums, the insurance world can be full of unfamiliar terms. Take health insurance—many employees can’t explain how a high-deductible plan might improve their financial situation. And many employees might never take the time to recognize what benefits are available to them. That’s why communication is vital during this time. Here are some pieces you should create:

  • A cheat sheet for common insurance terms: This would be an at-a-glance explanation of what all the terms mean, with examples of how they work in the real world. So, you could give a couple of explanations of how a high-deductible plan would play out for someone who uses little healthcare, compared to someone who has an ongoing health condition.

 

  • A summary of new insurance offerings: Finally offering massage therapy or financial wellness counseling? This is the time to tout the new benefits you’ll be offering to get employees excited about the package your workplace provides.

 

  • An explanation of existing offerings: During onboarding, most HR teams make a point to cover the benefit packages. But when employees are being bombarded with so much new information, they might not take the time to really dig in and find out what’s being offered and how they can take advantage of it. Open enrollment is the ideal time to refresh their memory on specifics. They might just end up with a renewed sense of satisfaction, just because you’re more thoroughly communicating what already exists.

 

  • A summary of total compensation (benefits + salary): Many employees don’t realize the value of their benefits package—estimated at 30% as most HR professionals know—but that disconnect means that they might feel underpaid if they don’t include these perks in their total compensation scenario. So depending on your bandwidth, it can be incredibly powerful to show exactly how much the company is kicking in, in terms of premium cost sharing, retirement program matches, disability insurance, and other programs you offer.

 

  1. Use multiple communication vehicles.

Gone are the days when HR could send out a big fat packet and hope/expect that everyone would read it. Today’s employees are used to getting their information in multiple ways. But the good news is that it doesn’t necessarily mean a ton more work for you; it just means thinking of creative ways to repackage the existing elements. The best way to make sure your communications vehicles hit their target market is through a strategy you can call COPE: Create once, publish everywhere. Some suggestions for broadcasting the materials you’ve created include:

  • Emails that drive them to your intranet, where materials reside online
  • A video campaign where you cover one type of benefit at a time and send the links to employees to watch at their leisure
  • A webinar where you present the information and they can send in real-time questions, with the option to replay later
  • A town hall style meeting where you can present and answer questions (done virtually if needed, depending on if you have a distributed workforce)
  • A drip campaign that supplements each of these by “teasing” what’s coming and meeting the need for “snackable” content that employees can consume quickly, then come back for more

 

As open enrollment season approaches, now is the time to prepare for your busy period. The great news is that it will wrap up just in time for you to enjoy the holidays.




What Employees Need to Know About Disability Insurance?

Employers are offering more and more voluntary benefits—and workers want these benefits. A 2017 study showed that nearly one third of eligible employees were signing up for voluntary offerings (that’s a higher participation rate than in earlier years). 

Amy Hollis is the national leader of voluntary benefits for HR consultancy Willis Towers Watson. She recently spoke to Workforce about their recent survey. It shows that 70 percent of employers claim voluntary benefits will be an important part of their value proposition in coming years. “Companies are using voluntary benefits to enrich their offerings without additional cost,” she said.

While there is a win-win element to this—it’s a good economic choice for both employers and employees—the story finishes with a stark warning. Rob Shestack, chairman and CEO of the Voluntary Benefits Association in Philadelphia says that HR teams need to be ready to educate. “The most frustrating thing is when HR makes the effort to provide these programs then does passive enrollment,” he says. “It’s like saying you don’t care if people use them or not.”

When it comes to disability insurance, education is that much more important. James Reid of CDA member company MetLife argues something similar in a story in Benefit News:While employees have a general idea of the benefits they use most often (medical, dental or vision), they don’t always grasp the value or need for some of the other benefits which may be available to them (disability or accident insurance, for example).”

Disability insurance is one of the most critical forms of coverage for working Americans—and one of most overlooked. Part of the problem is that people simply don’t understand how relevant it is for modern life

Here are five questions you can ask as a framework for understanding what disability insurance is: 

1. What Does Disability Mean in This Context?

Many people hear the word disability and assume it only means catastrophic health issues. In fact, disability can refer to a broken leg from a skiing accident, a pulled back while cleaning out your garage, a cancer diagnosis, or a pregnancy that can put an employee out of work for days, weeks, or months at a time.

Share the five most common reasons that keep people out of work for long periods: Pain in the back and neck, cancer, complications from pregnancy, and mental health issues all rank before accidental injuries, which many assume is the leading cause of disability. You can also share infographics.

2. Statistically Speaking, What are the Chances of Becoming Disabled?

Eighty percent of us live with optimism bias. That’s to say we don’t have a realistic understanding of the risk of becoming ill or injured. This is particularly at work with the younger generations who have grown up with some of the most supportive parents in modern history.

These are the numbers: According to the Social Security Administration, more than one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will be out of work for a year or more for a variety of reasons before they reach normal retirement age. This includes common health conditions such as knee, shoulder, or back injuries, cancer, heart problems, or depression.

Add to that the fact that nearly six percent of workers every year will experience a short-term disability due to illness, injury, or pregnancy. Three-quarters of these claims last up to two and a half months, and the rest can last for up to six months or a year.

3. How Would You Pay Your Bills?

Ask rhetorical questions as you educate. For example, will an employee be able to pay their monthly expenses? These are things like a mortgage or a phone bill.  Will they be able to pay their health insurance or retirement plans should a pregnancy, illness, or injury take them out of work for a few days, weeks, or more? This is about laying the foundations for their long-term financial stability.  

Data from the Federal Reserve shows that 40 percent of Americans do not have enough savings to pay for an unexpected $400 bill. Disability insurance pays a portion of someone’s salary when they need to miss work due to an illness, injury, or having a baby. For those who are single, disability insurance is the second most important insurance they can carry after health insurance. And if employees have a family that depends upon them, this insurance gives them an income stream if they need to leave work.

4. Workers’ Comp and SSDI: What Do They Cover?

Employees need a realistic understanding of the various safety nets that are in place should they become ill or injured. With this knowledge, they can make an informed decision.

  • Workers’ Compensation: Workers’ Comp only applies to accidents done on the worksite. Disabling illnesses or injuries are much more likely to be non-occupational in origin, which would rule out that coverage.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): The Social Security Administration provides Social Security disability benefits for eligible individuals who have a disability that lasts for one year or longer. Many applicants are denied coverage.  This can be due to a lack of work history, medical evidence, and the temporary nature of their condition. The could even get denied because they may still be able to work outside of their profession. There are three important things to bear in mind: 1) workers who become disabled off-the-job won’t always qualify for SSDI, 2) they can face average wait times of 600 days for a hearing (that’s nearly two years), and 3) if they do eventually get benefits, the monthly amount (averaging around $1,200, based on the most recent data) probably isn’t enough to help them keep up with their ongoing expenses.  

5. Starting a Family? What is Your Plan for Maternity Leave?

If your company doesn’t offer paid maternity leave, this is an important point to raise with women in the workforce. Disability insurance is a critical benefit for many new mothers in the U.S. Indeed, pregnancy is the most common cause of short-term disability (STD) claims. Plans typically cover two weeks before and six weeks after a routine pregnancy. 

Here’s an important note: One of the major differences between pregnancy and other types of disability claims is predictability. For a healthy woman, purchasing coverage through their workplace in anticipation of a planned pregnancy can be a fairly easy transaction. The key is that they buy coverage before they become pregnant. This way there is little risk of underwriting issues or denial of their claim due to a pre-existing condition limitation. (Read more on this here.)

By asking these questions, you can broaden the minds of your employees. At the same time, you give them the larger context of how disability insurance works in real life. That way, it isn’t just vague words on a list in a company intranet.  

For more resources please review our website www.disabilitycanhappen.org.




How to Return to Work After A Disability



Returning to work after a disability can be challenging—not only might you feel out of the loop with relationships, projects and changes at work, but you are also dealing with the emotional and physical impact of your condition. (And if you didn’t have long-term disability insurance, you might be dealing with some financial repercussions as well.) But if you are feeling healthy enough to head back, you are probably eager to get back into the swing of things and “rejoin” work life. Here are some tips to ease the transition back to work.

 

Make Sure You’ve Been Cleared

Talk to your doctor about whether you’re truly ready to return to work and make sure that she has signed off on all the paperwork you need as documentation.

 

Practice Your Job At Home

Does your job entail a lot of typing? See how it feels to do so at home. Or, do you frequently give presentations? See if there are any challenges you’ll need to accommodate for, such as being able to stand or use the video equipment. Finding the potential pitfalls in advance will help you feel more confident. 

 

Talk To Human Resources

Chances are good that you’ve been in touch with the human resources department throughout your disability, but make sure that your first stop is to talk with them about any special accommodations you need, such as a quiet room to work in, a different kind of chair, assistance with mobility or an office space that features accessible design. While you’re there, revisit any sort of discussions you need to have about benefits.

 

Initiate a Chat with Your Supervisor

Whether it’s the same manager you left or someone new has taken the reins, schedule a private meeting with your supervisor to find out what you might have missed while out….new goals, new processes, new clients. Also be open with them about sharing any limitations you might have, whether they are physical or mental. Perhaps you need to take breaks more often, or can’t be on your feet for extended periods of time. If there’s information you’d like him or her to share with your team, this is the time to ask for that.

 

Communicate With Your Team

Part of the joy of work is the camaraderie you have with your workmates. If the same colleagues are still in your department, they surely have missed you, but they might be hesitant on how to approach you. Sending them a friendly email and then having lunch or coffee with them (as appropriate for your relationship) can be a good way to open the door. They might be unsure what topics are off-limits—be open with them about what you do and don’t want to talk about. Everyone has different privacy limits so consider yours and let your co-workers know. 

 

Start Slow

As you consider a return to work, plan for a staggered schedule as you get back into the swing of things. Maybe getting up and out the door is more difficult now so a later start is preferable. It could be that coming in every other day is the best you can manage to work efficiently, or you tire easier so you’d rather work five shorter days. Whatever schedule works for you is the right one; you don’t want to rush your return or re-entry. “As frustrating as it may be to spend long boring days at home, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be ready to resume working. A too-soon return could set back your recovery and set you up for failure, creating disappointment both for you and your company,” notes mindfulness and leadership development coach Isabel Duarte, who has experience returning from disability leave. 

 

Look Into Retraining

If you’ve been out for a while, you might have lost some skills or the rest of your team might have upskilled. You’ll gain confidence by getting up to speed so look into development opportunities for specific areas, whether you seek training from a fellow team member or ask your supervisor to recommend an outside course. 

 

Take Care of Yourself

No matter what the disability you are dealing with, you have undoubtedly had to relearn a host of skills that used to be second nature. In addition, adapting to a routine with a disability can be exhausting, especially when you have to return to work. Make sure you take time for self-care, whether than entails mild exercise, meditation, journaling or art therapy. And make sure to get plenty of rest so you can wake up refreshed and ready to handle the challenges that come with returning to work after a disability.


 




10 Causes of Disability 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.  However, it aims 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. Yet, outside of the basic coverage offered through Social Security, at least 51 million working adults go without disability coverage.

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 – 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. Musculoskeletal Disorders. 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 is actually more prevalent than you might imagine. In fact, more than 70,000 people in their 20s and 30s are diagnosed with cancers. This includes diagnoses of 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. However, complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth can infringe on work. In fact, about 1/10 of all claims involve a pregnancy-related issue.  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. Fortunately, people are realizing that mental health is just as vital to treat as physical health. With over a quarter of the population diagnosed with one or more mental disorders each year, it is easy to see how it can be a leading cause of long-term disability.
  5. Injuries. Nine percent of long-term disability claims come from the “injury” category. This covers everything from accident recovery to surgery, broken bones, and even poisoning.
  6. Cardiovascular Issues. From heart attack to stroke, cardiovascular events strike unexpectedly. These events can prevent employees from returning to work indefinitely due to the severity of the event and the nature of the recovery.
  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. This also includes a range of additional eye and ear disorders.  Even Alzheimer’s, a condition often considered an older person’s disease, 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. This includes bacteria that cause strep throat and viruses that bring on the flu. When conditions become more resistant to hard-working antibiotics, the threat of work loss 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. This also includes 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. However, human resources professionals have the opportunity to educate their colleagues on common causes of disability, as well as, how they can protect themselves. Employers can deliver one of the best-kept secrets in the benefits world—how disability insurance can help prevent them from losing a paycheck just when they need it most.




How Companies Can Ensure Employees Feel Supported While on Leave


By Gene Lanzoni, Marketing, Thought Leadership, Customer Insights 
The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America


 

With the expansion of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) more than a decade ago, employers have become more aware of their responsibilities with not only how to stay compliant, but the role they play in helping employees return to work. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lost productivity due to absenteeism in the U.S. cost employers $225.8 billion annually, or $1,685 per employee. In today’s competitive labor market, many employers are looking for ways to retain their employees and adopting leave practices that help employees return to work from an extended absence due to injury or disability is becoming a priority.

As such, employers are responding with more personalized leave management and more robust stay-at-work (SAW) accommodations. Guardian’s most recent biennial Absence Management Activity Index and Study–“The Value of Leave Management Integration,” found three in four employers with a high level of return-to-work (RTW) and SAW programs reported decreased absenteeism, compared to only 40% of companies with no formal SAW program.

Guardian’s study also reveals employers are paying greater attention to the employee experience, one that offers a more supportive environment with additional flexibility, resources, and education. Employers seeking to upgrade their absence management programs to generate positive outcomes like high employee satisfaction and retention should consider the following:

Better Return-to-Work and Stay-at-Work Accommodations 

While it’s important to communicate with employees throughout their disability leave, it’s equally important to provide them with a smooth transition back to work. Employers should establish a strong RTW program that guides employees in a way that makes them feel supported. Guardian’s study indicates 70% of employees who completed an RTW program feel their employer cares about them. Additionally, companies that have four to six RTW initiatives see a 78% reduction in lost time, compared with 48% of companies that have no RTW initiatives. 

Employers have become more aware of their responsibilities under the ADA and are identifying ways to help their employees stay at work following an absence. These activities have expanded beyond traditional vocational rehabilitation to include interactive processes, transitional work plans, and worksite modifications to accommodate employees with disabilities. Providing employees with resources like nurse case management and duration guidelines can help reduce the likelihood of a relapse. Guardian’s study found organizations with the most comprehensive RTW programs appear to achieve greater success reducing lost time and improving employee retention. 


Flexibility and Personalization Go a Long Way 

Today’s technology makes it easy to communicate and inform a company’s workforce through various channels. So, it’s not surprising our study reveals that the accessibility of information has a great influence on employees when they are on leave. Every employee has a preference of how they’d like to communicate with their employer about leave, and Guardian’s study finds the majority of employees prefer to have 24/7 access to personal and mobile communications.

Employers that leverage new technology, including automated dialers, text messaging and chats are leaders in the absence management space because they demonstrate a willingness to accommodate to an employee’s schedule and individual needs. In fact, Guardian’s study reveals 21% of Index leaders use automated dialing technology, compared with 9% that lag on program improvements. The same goes for interactive voice response systems – 16% of Index leaders leverage this technology, compared with only 7% of those that rank lower in the Index. 

At the end of the day, many employees want to work for a company they feel cares about their well-being and that will help them navigate the journey through their disability. The data collected from Guardian’s Absence Management Activity IndexSM and Study supports the notion that employers who prioritize these programs see positive results in employee satisfaction and overall retention.


Unless otherwise noted, the source of all information is from the 2019 Guardian Absence Management Activity Index℠ and Study – “The Value of Leave Management Integration.




Single Women’s Guide to Financial Wellbeing



If you’re a single woman today, you’re in good company: The number of single adults in the U.S. continues to increase—from 39 percent in 2007 to 42 percent in 2017, reports the Pew Research Center. The rise shows no signs of abating. Many people are choosing to wait until later to get married, if at all. Although there is freedom in spending your money as you wish, as a single woman you might be slightly apprehensive about your financial future. A study by MassMutual finds that indeed women are more anxious about their current and future financial status than men—more apt to worry about household finances now and less confident in their eventual retirement security. But the good news is that there are several doable steps that single women can take to feel financially confident


SIX Ways Single Women Can Watch Out for Their Own Financial Wellbeing: 

  1. Have a Plan for Retirement Savings

Most couples find it easier to save because they have two incomes coming in—and they are sharing costs such as housing expenses, which can make it easier to allocate more for savings. However, single women need to approach their savings goals as aggressively, and it seems they aren’t. The MassMutual study found that women were three times more likely than men to say that they couldn’t afford to contribute to their retirement savings plan. But, that can be catastrophic because you will potentially not have someone to share bills with now or in the future. In fact, it turns out that women need to save more for retirement in the first place—simply because they are more likely to outlive men. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that women tend to live about five years longer than men.

  1. Boost Your Financial Literacy

A survey for Merrill Lynch found that half of women lacked confidence in managing their investments—a gap of 16 percent between women and men—even though they reported feeling nearly equally capable as men in other financial tasks, including budgeting and paying bills. In fact, 61 percent of women would rather talk about their own death than money, the study reports. But learning about investing is not only necessary—it can be fun and fascinating.

Vow to sit down with a financial advisor. Discuss vehicles that might be right for you, from IRAs to mutual funds. Ask your human resources department if they offer any financial education; it’s quite likely they do as it’s a growing benefit—today 83 percent of employers offer a financial wellness program, up from only 20 percent in 2015, finds a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

  1. Regularly Contribute to Your Emergency Fund

Planning for an emergency is wise. As we know, taking a loan or putting an unexpected expense on your credit card can just extend the pain in the form of interest rate payments. If you are single, you might need a more ample emergency fund than your married counterparts. In fact, a recent article in Kiplinger says that some financial planners recommend single women, specifically, keep between nine and 12 months of living expenses available, compared with only three to six months for couples.

  1. Take Care of Crucial Paperwork

A wedding often spurs couples to consider their financial future. From living wills to power-of-attorney forms, it forces them to focus on serious life considerations. As a single female, you should make sure you have updated sets of paperwork; you can access advance directives specific to your state here, and a sample power of attorney can be accessed here. Your doctor may also have a form you can fill out specific to that hospital and practice. Talk to a financial advisor to find out about other paperwork you should have. Be sure it is notarized as appropriate.

  1. Buy a Home If and When It Makes Sense for Your Situation

If you’re contemplating a home purchase as a single woman, you’re not alone: Women now are the second largest homebuying group following couples, surpassing single male homebuyers, finds the National Association of Realtors®’2018  Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. Just make sure you’ve thought through all the costs related to a home, including maintenance and insurance, to ensure that it’s a financially savvy move, compared with renting.

  1. Don’t Skimp on Insurance, Including Disability Insurance

In a new survey of the awareness and ownership of disability insurance across today’s workforce, The Council for Disability Awareness (CDA), uncovered that among all single women in the U.S. whether never married, divorced or widowed – nearly 1 in 3 said they were “extremely unprepared” for any period of disability if they should lose their income. That number equates to roughly 10-million women in America. What would you do if you were forced to take a leave from your job because of an accident or extended illness?

Without a partner to cover the bills, this work lapse can be devastating to a single woman. That’s why disability insurance may be even more important for single women, considering that more than a quarter of today’s young adults aged 20 will likely be out of work for at least one year at some point in their career. Make sure to talk with your human resources department about your options as a way to safeguard your income.While single women often have more freedom with their finances, that comes with responsibility as well. Take care of your financial wellbeing is a gift you give yourself.  




Podcast: Living and Working With Endometriosis



Introduction

Carol Harnett [00:00:00] Hi everyone, this is Carol Harnett. I’m the president of The Council for Disability Awareness. Welcome to our show: the Financial Health and Income Network.  I am very excited to launch what we hope will be a continuing series with people who are working and living with chronic conditions, illnesses and diseases.  I am so pleased to say that our first topic will be on endometriosis.

 


You can hear the full podcast or if you’d rather read than listen, we captured the transcript from the conversation below.


 

Carol Harnett [00:00:32] I’ve worked in and around healthcare my whole life, and worked around the data in healthcare my entire career, and I have never thought about endometriosis as a separate category.  What brought it to my attention is my guest, Tawnia Jacobson. She is a nurse who has a master’s degree in Science with a concentration in Biology, and is also a Certified Nurse Anesthetist.

I often put firewalls between the different parts of my life. This is one of those times when I let the different parts of my life blend together. Tawnia is also my CycleBar instructor, and that is how I came to know her. She did something that I think has a high degree of impact for everyone around health and particularly for women with endometriosis.

During the month of March, which is an awareness month for endometriosis, she shared publicly through her Instagram account, her experience with endometriosis along with a lot of very important facts. The one that captured me the most is that 1 in 10 women in the United States have endometriosis, which is the same as the diabetes rate in the United States.

When we think about the amount of time and energy that we put around diabetes, which we should, we don’t put any time and energy around addressing endometriosis. So, Tawnia, thank you so much for being willing to join us today and talk with us and educate us on this topic.  

Tawnia Jacobson [00:02:05.40] Absolutely Carol. Thank you so much for having me.  This is an extremely important topic for everybody, but obviously near and dear to my heart with personal experience.

Carol Harnett [0:02:18.42]: For that reason, I want to turn a lot of the show over to you. I would love you to start, if you don’t mind, first with grounding people with a definition of what endometriosis is, and then your story as it relates to that.

Defining Endometriosis

Tawnia Jacobson [02:37.08]: Endometriosis, by definition, is a systemic disease that occurs when tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus is found elsewhere in the body, mostly in the pelvis or the pelvic cavity. But it can also appear on the bladder,  the bowel, the lungs (into the diaphragm) , and even the brain, in worst-case scenarios.

It causes pain, organ dysfunction, and infertility. The cause of endometriosis is unknown, but there are many theories surrounding it.  Genetics, stem cells, blood and lymph system distribution are all possibilities. Inflammation is a key factor, and they believe that maybe some environmental toxins may be linked to it.  Again, no definitive cause, and the diagnosis unfortunately takes a very long time. As Carol mentioned, the prevalence is extremely high, it’s 1 in 10 women. So if you yourself don’t have it, absolutely somebody you know has it or may not even know that they have it, but are experiencing signs and symptoms of having endometriosis.

A Challenging Diagnosis

Tawnia Jacobson [0:04:00.16]: A lot of people ask why it takes so long to diagnose and it’s mainly because most obstetrics and gynecology doctors themselves don’t even know that much about it. The average patient will see eight to ten doctors before they receive an actual diagnosis. After years and years of pain and suffering, many patients are told that it’s “in their head”, that it’s just “IBS” — irritable bowel syndrome — because so many of us have so many bowel symptoms that go along with this.

When it’s confused to be a GI issue, you might be sent away from your GYN (gynecologist), to a gastroenterologist and go through every process and procedure known to man for that, and really that’s not the initial cause. With a lot of confusion and pain, it becomes a mental battle and game for many patients and it’s very frustrating.

I can now back up and talk about my story.

Tawnia Jacobson | Symptoms: Pain, Heavy Menstrual Bleeding, Fatigue, Migraines

Tawnia Jacobson [0:05:05.25]: I would say that this whole thing probably started for me when I started menstruating at the age of 16. With heavy, heavy bleeding, I missed many days of high school. I was fatigued. I would get headaches. My mother actually had a history of very heavy periods as well, and had a hysterectomy at the age of 30 because of heavy bleeding. She couldn’t handle it anymore. At the time, whether they knew or not that she had endometriosis has really been left to be discovered, but it doesn’t matter. They performed a hysterectomy to treat her pain and bleeding, and that’s all I know. My mom kind of just said, “Yeah, I had really bad periods, too,” and we went about business and life. When I moved to college, the pain was worse. I would be knocked out for at least a week at a time in addition to the week of premenstrual symptoms.

One Solution | Birth Control

Tawnia Jacobson [0:06.10.01]: I finally started seeing a GYN (gynecologist) early in college who suggested birth control. She diagnosed me with menstrual migraines. She thought if we could even out my hormone swings it would prevent my migraines. Then, obviously, if I wasn’t bleeding, I wouldn’t have as much pain or symptoms of cramping and bleeding.

I went on birth control early on, probably by the time I was 19, and stayed on birth control for about 7 years. I came off birth control at about 2008; (we can talk a little bit more about how birth control can suppress endometriosis symptoms later).

Without being able to remember too much, in general, I just always felt crappy around my period. I was exhausted. There were probably days — many days — when I called out of work. But the bleeding was so intense that I would have to take extra clothes with me everywhere I went because I would easily bleed through what I had on.

Again, I was just always told it was normal. Even my GYN was like, “Yeah”, some people just get this. This is normal.” She offered me narcotics to deal with the pain. I never took them as I am not the type of person who would even take Ibuprofen regularly. So I spent a lot of time in bed, a lot of time sleeping with heating pads, and just dealing with it.  This continued for years and years.

Next Step | Trying to Conceive

Tawnia Jacobson [0:07.45.76]: I think the next step in my journey came when my husband and I decided to start trying for a family. Probably around 2014, we became more active in trying. And even though I had been off of birth control since 2008, we were obviously not preventing pregnancy, but it hadn’t happened. But 2014 is when we started to try a little bit more actively.

I was feeling a lot more left lower quadrant pain, and I think once you become hyper-focused on your schedule and looking at a calendar all the time,  you start to become very in-tune with your body. I was just noticing so many things. So I sat down and talked to my GYN about it. She said, “Let’s start by getting some labs and do an ultrasound, so that we can  rule out cysts.”

At the time I didn’t have any signs or symptoms of ovarian cysts other than just pain which seemed to be focused in my left lower quadrant.  Labs came back and showed that I had a low AMH, which is an Anti-Müllerian hormone. This test is fairly new. They’ve been using it maybe 10 to 12 years. So again, six years ago or five years ago, or however long it was I got this information, my GYN  didn’t feel that comfortable with dealing with it. She said, “With this information, it means you have a low ovarian reserve, and I’m not really sure how to treat you moving forward. I need to send you to a fertility specialist.”

This was obviously devastating news, and not what you want to hear when you’re just starting your journey.  But I thought, “Great! This is a specialist, somebody who is going to listen a little bit more to my symptoms and put a little more thought into my cycle and what has been going on for years.”

A Specialist, and Diagnostic Laparoscopy

Tawnia Jacobson [0:09.36.93]: We went on that journey, and have been on that journey for the past four years. It has been equal parts devastating and frustrating, but it was during that time that we all, as a team, made the decision that I probably most likely had endometriosis. The only problem was, the only way to diagnose endometriosis is via invasive surgical procedure. You have to have a diagnostic laparoscopy in order to obtain a sample of tissue to send to pathology for diagnosis. It was years of frustration and a lot of changes to my cycles, (very short cycles). Another thing to add is that after we were told we wouldn’t conceive naturally, I did conceive naturally.  Unfortunately I sustained a miscarriage at about 10 to 11 weeks. It was at that point that my cycles seemed to be even more sporadic and painful. It was then that I finally said, “Okay, I have to do something, so let’s have surgery.”

In 2017 I had my first surgery by a fertility specialist who claimed that he could fix my endometriosis and get me pregnant. I trusted him and I went through surgery. Within three months, my symptoms were worse than they had been before. I was in a very ugly place mentally and emotionally, and I was begging for a birth control again because I said, “I can’t continue feeling like this. I’m not myself. It hurts every day.”  It went from being painful a week to two weeks out of the month to three to four weeks out of the month. There were very few good days. I was keeping a calendar. I was keeping food diaries. It was consuming my life and it was miserable. So I begged and pleaded for birth control, and he talked me out of it because he said, “You are looking to start a family” and I said, “I understand that but this isn’t working.” So instead he put me on Clomid.

I took a course of Clomid hoping to get pregnant, but instead I ended up getting a grapefruit-sized cyst.  Luckily it did not require surgical resection, but I endured many, many days of pain until it rectified itself. After that, I foolishly put myself on a course of DHEA hoping that would improve my egg supply for getting pregnant once again; not realizing that those are the worst things you can do for endometriosis.

Breakthrough

Tawnia Jacobson [0:12.20.51]: By the fall of 2017,  I was just in a really bad place.  It was not good for my relationships. It was not good for my marriage. I knew that I needed to do something. I just didn’t know what I needed to do.

As fate would have it, one of my neighbors and I were talking one day. We had just built a house in a new development and she was a new neighbor. We were talking about infertility. She mentioned that she had endometriosis as well, and she led me down the path of Nancy’s Nook, which is an endometriosis education forum on Facebook that literally changed my life.

I went on there and I read for a couple of hours every day. I learned more than I ever learned about endometriosis in my entire life in about four hours, and it changed my life. It was Nancy’s Nook who educated me, who ultimately led me to my surgeon, who performed excision surgery, which is the gold standard for treatment right now. I had surgery last March and have felt like a new person ever since then.

Carol Harnett [0:13:34.05]: Wow, as I was listening, you probably heard me gasping because it’s incredible to listen to your experience in one fell swoop. I can’t imagine what that was like to live through.

Tawnia Jacobson [0:13.49.22]: I try to keep it as condensed possible, but it was many, many years of suffering, and many years going in the wrong direction.

I mentioned keeping food diaries.  I changed my diet so many times. I had tried gluten-free and dairy-free. It was around that time that I actually got pregnant. Part of me was like “Wow, is that what it takes?” Then I eventually went vegan; I had cut out all meat. If you read a little bit more about endometriosis, you realize that they encourage an anti-inflammatory diet. A lot of that means getting rid of red meat. My husband and I tried vegan for a while, and none of this was helping any of my symptoms. It was basically just torturing me more mentally because it was all-consuming.

Finally, The Right Surgeon, The Right Procedure

Tawnia Jacobson [0:14.32.20]: I talked about meeting the surgeon who basically changed my life. It was the excision surgery that changed my life. It was the appropriate treatment. My first surgery was ablation, which means they burn the tissue.  They don’t actually get rid of it, they just burn it, and hope to prevent it from growing back. The tissue, I guess it could be described as an iceberg. The tissue that you see is visible endometriosis, but lives much deeper than that. The part of the iceberg that you don’t see below the surface is actually the problem. You burn what you see, but you leave behind what you don’t see, and it will continue to grow. Since you’re in there basically irritating it, making it more angry, the endometriosis becomes worse. That’s why when I had my first surgery, within three to four months, I was feeling worse than I did before. We made it angry. Until I went to the correct surgeon and had the proper procedure done, my symptoms weren’t going to get any better.

Since having surgery, (a four-hour procedure), I was diagnosed with moderate endometriosis.
I did not have it on my diaphragm, Thank God, but  it was covering much of my pelvic orifice. It was growing on both ovaries and wrapped around ligaments. I had right leg pain that nobody ever paid any attention to but me. I would live from day-to-day, working out regularly, and then I would have to take one to two weeks off of my workouts at a time because my right leg was bothering me so much.

When I found the surgeon who ended up helping me, he didn’t even bat an eye.  As soon as I said “right leg pain down my back,” he was like, “Oh, yeah, your ligaments are involved.” And sure enough, when he went in there, the endometriosis was wrapped around my uterosacral ligaments. He had to dig down in there and clean that all out and I haven’t had any leg pain since surgery.

Carol Harnett [0:16:34.62]: You’re generous to share this. I know that when we look at data for why people go out of work and we look at their health data (we call it disability data), but it’s not the disability people think about. When we say disability data, we are almost always talking about illness or injuries that people have that prevent them from working — usually on a temporary basis.

Ablations and hysterectomies are procedures we’re seeing both in endometriosis and in perimenopausal women who are having difficulty with heavy bleeding. It’s interesting, too, because these procedures aren’t always successful in the perimenopausal population.  I did more background reading so I could ask you intelligent questions. I read about excision surgery and was disappointed to find that there’s a limited number of surgeons in the U.S. who have the expertise to do this surgery.

Tawnia Jacobson [0:17.29.92]: About 150, I think, worldwide.

Carol Harnett [0:17:33.91]: Yes, I think there’s about 100 in the U.S. When you think about it, I assume they’re clustered in bigger geographic areas. I think about women who this might be a good solution for — at least a strategy to manage it — those who may have to travel to see somebody who’s able to do this procedure. This is concerning because that may exclude women of certain means to be able to do that.  That always concerns me.

I actually didn’t ask you about this earlier when we started this show, or even when we’ve talked about this a little bit, but I think you referenced in one of your social media posts that there are some insurance limitations for some of the procedures. Did I remember that correctly?

Insurance Coverage and Financial Implications

Tawnia Jacobson [0:18.26.65]: Yeah, I’m going to be very careful with how I speak to this because I am not a professional in the industry. I can only speak to my personal experience, and I actually have a girlfriend who’s really going through a very frustrating situation herself with insurance regarding this.  I can say from my experience, yes, my surgeon was out of state. He was technically out-of-network, which is true for many women who are searching to find an endometriosis expert to treat them because they are very few and far between. Many of them are grouped together, like you said. We’re fortunate in New England to have in New York, Massachusetts and Maine certified surgeons who are experts in excision surgery but, unfortunately, your insurance does restrict you being able to go out of state. Lucky for me, my insurance at the time had an out-of-network option. The hospital, the lab and the anesthesia services were partly covered by my insurance. Now the surgeon himself is paid out of pocket simply because he doesn’t get reimbursed for the procedure.

This is where I’m going to be very careful with how I speak.  How I understand it is that there are basically no CPT codes for the excision surgery itself. They will lump it into the same category as ablation. My surgery was four hours long. My bowel was not involved, but many women do have bowel involvement which can sometimes involve a colorectal surgeon as well. So, if you’re in there 4 to 8 hours (sometimes 10 hours if you’re having diaphragm involvement as well) and you’re only getting reimbursed for an ablation procedure, which can be done in about an hour, you’re losing a lot of money.  That is a lot of time, energy and expense being put out there that you’re not getting reimbursed for. I believe that’s why many of these surgeons require out-of-pocket pay.

Carol Harnett [0:20:39.22]: You have to save!

Tawnia Jacobson [0:20.41.84]: Yeah exactly. My surgeon offered a payment plan. You spoke about people traveling; he gets patients from all over the world.  He had patients flying from India the week that I met him. He’s been doing this for 30 plus years so he is seeing people worldwide. It’s unfortunate because not everybody has the means to be able to do this.  When I was going through the process of finding a surgeon and scheduling surgery, I had befriended somebody through social media who lives in California. She was suffering so much and could not find a surgeon out there who was local and in-network for her insurance. She was fighting the good fight. She was appealing every time I turned around and she was just hoping and praying that she’d be able to find some loophole to be able to allow her to have excision surgery. I can proudly say today that she finally did get surgery! She had excision surgery in December, but I was at the point where I was like,  “Oh my God, I need to start saving money and fly her out here to see my surgeon,” because after I had surgery, I felt so much better. I want every person who is experiencing this pain to be able to find somebody who can help them because they deserve it.

Back to the insurance question -, my girlfriend is experiencing a very similar situation. She has had three ablation surgeries locally, at one of our local hospitals, and it’s not working for her. She needs excision and her insurance has denied her request, twice, to go see my surgeon in She’s still fighting, still trying to figure that out.

A Word About PPO Plans | More Options

Carol Harnett [0:22:19.74]: I’ll just add a quick point. I’ve been in and around insurance for the last ten plus years of my life, in addition to what I do at The Council for Disability Awareness., When you’re going through the open enrollment process, if your employer offers health insurance, (employers of a certain size are all required to offer health insurance) or have to go into the individual market yourself, it’s really important to make sure you’re in a preferred provider (PPO) plan.  At least when you go out of network, it’s pricey (you have a much more significant copay until you reach your out-of-pocket maximum), but at least it gives you options.

This advice applies not just for this situation, but for all situations, particularly if you want to go to what we would call a “center of excellence.” I would consider 100 surgeons in the country to be 100 separate centers of excellence for how to treat this condition — endometriosis — by excision.

This is not a push for you to buy more health insurance than you need.  A PPO health plan costs more money, but when you or one of your loved ones is impacted, you will be ever so thankful that you had options.

Carol Harnett [0:23:25.28]: I am looking at the clock and we have about 6 minutes and there are two questions I want to ask. You referenced a couple of times that when you were in high school you missed school and missed work.  Something that The Council for Disability Awareness focuses on is how illnesses, injuries and diseases can impact people’s ability to work.

The most recent research article I could find was published in 2017. The researchers studied the impact of endometriosis on work and life and said that on average (and the range is enormous), women lose about 5.3 hours per week to endometriosis. Whether that’s being absent or unable to do something, or not being able to do it in the way they normally could.

Can you talk a little bit more about how endometriosis impacted your ability to work for certain, but also your ability to do things in your own life?  I have met you as a very active person, so could you share with people what that is like.

Living and Working with Endometriosis

Tawnia Jacobson [0:24.51.98]: There were days missed from work, days where I had been up all night writhing in pain, or had a wicked headache and just felt terrible the next day and knew that I couldn’t function to my full capacity. That being said, fortunately for me, the worst of my symptoms developed about nine months before I had excision surgery and coincided with me  taking a new position at my job. It was a leadership role. It was administrative. I was putting so much time and energy into my new role, that it was depleting me to the point where between that and my symptoms, I couldn’t function in life outside of work.

I think the new job gave me the drive to get up every single day. Even though I was miserable mentally and physically, I had a purpose. I got up and would work four days a week, but I would then come home and be useless. I would be on the couch with a heat pack taking more ibuprofen than I had ever taken in my life.  Luckily, I had a husband who could pick up the pieces, but it wasn’t good for our relationship, and it was taking a toll on us. I just can’t help but think of women who are supporting themselves as single mothers, or women who are single and alone, and don’t have somebody to help them emotionally or physically.

I couldn’t cook, I couldn’t clean, and I didn’t do my own laundry. I was really kind of  useless outside of work. I had the ability to get there and do that, but that was kind of my purpose in life. I’ve often thought about if I hadn’t taken that new job, where would I be because I think I would have given up. I think I wouldn’t have wanted to get up anymore every single day. It’s funny how timing works out like that.  Prior to that position, I definitely missed a ton of work.

I definitely would call out. I said it used to be a week at a time,  and I would feel crummy, but then it became three weeks out of the month.  It was affecting me so much so that actually my words to my husband were: “I either have to find a surgeon who can help me or who believed my pain and my symptoms, or I have to be admitted to a mental institution, because something’s not right with me. I’m in a very dark place and I’m not myself.”  Those words really sent the message home, and he was like, “We have to do something.”

Fortunately for me, my something was Facebook and educating myself. I said it to you before and I have said it to other people, “It’s embarrassing. I’m a healthcare professional. I’ve studied science my entire life.” I didn’t know what endometriosis meant. I thought it just meant bad periods, painful bleeding, painful sex.  It was an excuse to me. Unfortunately, that’s what many people think and that’s the kind of the stigma you had mentioned. It’s a woman’s disease and women don’t normally talk about their reproductive systems. People don’t usually want to hear about women’s reproductive systems, and that’s unfortunate, because if we can tie this back to the beginning and talk about the prevalence being the same as diabetes. Diabetes isn’t always pretty either, and it affects every organ system in the body — just like endometriosis can affect almost every organ system in the body. Everyone’s symptoms might present a little bit differently, but they can involve major organ systems.

Carol Harnett [0:28:18.58]: I appreciate you sharing all that, particularly your comments about your mental health, because when I looked at this 2018 research study, they looked at lists of symptoms. The more symptoms you have, the more likely you are to be out of work for a period of time.  The number two symptom (pain being number one) was mental health, because people were feeling unaddressed and confused.

I am so grateful you’re talking about mental health because, by coincidence, we are live recording this on May 1st, which is the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month, in addition to Disability Insurance Awareness Month, and I’ve committed to talking a lot about mental health.

We have 60 seconds left to our time together, so I’m going to ask for a 30 second headline. Looking back on what you know now, what’s the number one piece of advice you would give to people?

Tawnia’s Best Advice | Educate Yourself

Tawnia Jacobson [0:29.15.14]: Educate yourself. Don’t trust that the doctors know exactly what they’re talking about. I don’t say that negatively, because I work with physicians every single day, but they’re not all experts in what you’re experiencing. Be your own advocate; do your own research, and find the specialist in the area that you need.

For me, it was endometriosis; Nancy’s Nook saved my life. I wish I would have found that resource earlier. If people are struggling, go look at the documentary on endowhat.com. It is life-changing.  

Carol Harnett [0:29:48.41]: Thank you so much, Tawnia, for being our guest. In my opinion, this  is the best show we’ve ever done.

For everyone who has been listening, we hope this show has helped you.

I want to say thank you to all of our listeners. Have a great day, and there’ll be a transcript that accompanies this show so it is easier for  you to get all of the information that we referenced. We will make sure there’s links for all of it.

Thank you again, Tawnia.  

Tawnia Jacobson [0:30.11.97]: Thank you for having me –  such a great topic.




Trends in Disability Insurance Claims Management

Originally posted by Ian Bridgman at The Claim Lab April 30, 2019

Last month we started a series of newsletters (February) to introduce the concept of data enrichment of claims information and we discussed how this will help us to understand what’s really preventing return to work for complex claims.

Maybe for those short term disability plans of 3 to 6 months, the duration is driven by diagnosis. In the healthcare industry, recovery is measured over a 6 month period. So by its very nature a claim that has gone on longer than 6 months has complications…

We have been told for many years in the claims world that we should not over medicalize claims, yet when claim managers get stuck, they order an IME!

We know that the likelihood is that there is something else going on: work issues, poor motivation, anxiety, depression, domestic issues, medication dependence, etc. on top of the primary diagnosis.

These are the psychosocial factors, that after the first few months of a claim, should really be driving our claim management process.

An experienced claim manager could, probably after 7 mins on the phone, start to dig into some of these issues, BUT we don’t have many experienced claim managers any more, and if we do, their case loads are too high, and new claim managers are lacking the required skills.

Just imagine for a moment, that we had developed a way of understanding these psychosocial influencers without the need for an experienced claim manager!

Click here to read the full post at The Claim Lab


The Claim Lab is an organization that has been conceived to help Disability and Worker’s Compensation Insurance companies improve claims outcomes using innovative techniques.  Learn more at www.claimlab.org.