Trends in Disability Insurance Claims Management

Originally posted by Ian Bridman 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.




Celebrating the Modern Dad: Transitions and Wellbeing for Today’s Family



The presence of a loving father greatly increases a child’s chances of success, confidence, resilience, physical and mental well-being.

Family Dynamics of the Past

Not too long ago, society deemed dads incapable of caring for their children.  At least that’s what the television ads would portray. Picture this: a bumbling dad burning dinner and twisting the baby’s diaper in a knot, only to be saved by dear old mom.  At the time, fathers were simply the breadwinners, and had no business in the kitchen or caring for the children.

But that was then.  

The historically significant shifts in technology, alongside the evolution of gender roles, over the past 70 years, both at home and in the workplace, have changed that.  Now, dads are just as likely as moms to say that parenting is important to their identity.  According to Pew Research, it is now less common for dads to be the sole breadwinner of the family.  In 1970, 47 percent of families were supported by the working dad alone. Today, that number has dropped to 27 percent.  Most two-parent families with kids have both parents working in some capacity.  Along the way, society has done away with stereotypes about what fathers do. 

If there is a strong evidence to prove the importance that fathers be around and be involved, then they now have a stronger argument to be home.” 
– Paul Raeburn.

The Modern Dad: Fathers as Caregivers

The modern-day father comes in various forms. Today’s father is no longer always the traditional married breadwinner and disciplinarian in the family. He can be single or married; externally employed or stay-at-home; gay or straight; an adoptive or step-parent; and a more than capable caregiver. More fathers are actually making the conscious choice to stay home to raise their children.  According to Pew Center, in 2016, 24% of stay-at-home dads reported that this was the main reason they were at home, up from just 4% in 1989.

As more and more dad’s take on the caregiver role, new studies are being conducted on the science of fatherhood that investigates the role of fathers in their children’s and families’ lives.  According to author, Paul Raeburn,  “Fathers who play with their kids have children who have fewer behavioral problems in their school years, adjust better to their transition to school from toddlerhood, and have less likelihood to be involved in delinquency or criminal behaviors as teenagers and even more as adults. This has a lifelong effect on children and it’s really only in the last few years that this has begun to be recognized.”  

The NEW American Family and the Need for Comparable Paid Family Leave Laws, Disability Insurance

As dad’s role in the family dynamic becomes more equalized with that of what the stay at home mom’s role used to be, the need for paid leave programs for all workers has come into the public and political conversation. Today, only a few states have laws requiring paid leave for various circumstances. And while many companies have their own, more generous policies, the benefit is not as widespread as you might imagine: The National Partnership for Women and Families, a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group, estimates that only 17 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers.

To help working mothers, paid parental leave – for moms and dads — may be the next frontier. Employers and governments are now talking a lot more about giving fathers a break so they can be the dads they want to be – and so the daily work-parenting load will be more equally distributed. In fact, the Trump administration has reportedly drafted a budget that would require states to offer six weeks of paid parental leave. So far, there are no signs of any progress on the plan, mostly because there are no specifics about how to implement it yet, but the fact that such a priority is even on the budget at a time of massive spending cuts is good news. 

Whether or not your state or company offers ample paid leave, disability insurance (or, as we like to call it, “income insurance”) is another benefit more employers are considering as additions to their benefits packages, and one more families should consider during their company’s open enrollment. Although fewer than 40 percent have access to personal medical leave through short-term disability insurance that is provided by their employer, most workplaces offer you the option of purchasing more. It’s a decision that can save a family’s finances should the unexpected happen.

Proactive Steps Dad Can Take for Longterm Health and Wellbeing

Outside of benefits and income protection, and as primary caregivers, it is important for men, like their female counterparts, to take a proactive approach to healthcare, something most men historically do not do. According to a recent article by the Wall Street Journal, men are notoriously bad patients. Compared with women, they avoid going to the doctor, skip more recommended screenings and practice riskier behavior. They also die about five years sooner, live with more years of bad health and have higher suicide rates. Now, with the growing recognition that treating preventable causes of death and disability could close the medical gender gap, the health-care industry is mounting a new push to get men the care they need.  

The first step is prevention. As we know heart disease the number one cause of illness and death for the American man.  Families can help the dads in their lives think about their own health and lifestyle choices and ensure they are taking the right steps to look after themselves.  The Centers for Disease Control, offers families a simple guide to help the men in their life get and stay on track with their health.  Here are some tips: 

  1. Gather for the Family Meal.
    While you are at it, have dad eat his fruits and vegetables every day.

  2. Get active!
    This Father’s Day, find fun ways to exercise together. Regular physical activity has many benefits. It can help dad control his weight, reduce his risk of heart disease and some cancers, and can improve overall mental health and mood.
  3. Don’t Forget to Breathe.
    Help the men in your life recognize and reduce stress.
  4. Schedule the Check Up.
    Men can prepare for doctor’s visits. Certain diseases and conditions may not have symptoms, so checkups help identify issues early or before they can become a problem.
  5. Know the Signs of a Heart Attack:
    • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
    • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint
    • Chest pain or discomfort
    • Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder
    • Shortness of breath
  1. Know the Signs of Depression: They include persistent sadness, grumpiness, feelings of hopelessness, tiredness and decreased energy, and thoughts of suicide.

A father’s influence has changed over the years. For example, today there are more stay-at-home dads by choice and those that are able to take paid leave for a new baby.  This has created a cultural shift placing a father at the core of caregiving. As a result, it is having long term positive effects. As the number of dads who are in the caregiver role increases, it is ever more important they take advantage of employer paid leave benefits, and at the same time, take proactive steps to maintain optimal health… not just for their own good, but the good of their families (and society in general).  

Happy Father’s Day!




Seven Ways Employers Can Create Flexible Work Options

Competition for Talent Informs Trend in Flexibility as Benefit Option

HR departments know all too well the fierce competition for top talent being waged today. And as you develop appealing compensation offers and benefits packages, there is one peak benefit that employees are clamoring for—and that’s flexibility. If you are still clinging to a fixed work schedule, you may soon be left behind; in fact one survey finds this is the top work benefit employers are expecting to add in 2019, and many workers won’t hesitate to move to another company with a more attractive benefit offering.

However, even if you want to add flexibility, there is the issue that not every workplace seems cut out for it. After all, you still have clients to deal with, and work that must be completed. The good news is that it’s possible to offer flexibility without throwing schedules out the window. Here are seven ways that you could consider adding a modicum of flexibility to almost any workplace.

  1. Determine the Hours that People MUST Be There, and Work Around That
    Maybe you are in the Eastern time zone and primarily deal with West coast clients that could necessitate a longer day. Consider letting your staff come in a bit later on at least some mornings.  Another option would be to rotate the team member who stays late to cover the West coast hours. The goal? To be available to successfully manage client issues without requiring the entire team to work all the hours.
  2. Identify Work That Can Be Done from Home
    Even in a call center where employees are literally working the phones, see if there is some element of their work that they could do on their own time or at the location of choice, such as typing up reports or doing other paperwork. Employees who feel that you are keeping these types of opportunities in mind will be grateful when they are presented, even if they understand that the majority of their work must be completed on site.
  3. Let Employees Take Care of Personal Needs
    Don’t make employees feel they have to hide the fact that they’re making a doctor’s appointment or shopping for a birthday present online during a lull. Just remember chances are they are answering work-related emails on their own time, too. The lines of work and leisure time continue to blend, and your team needs to know that you understand and respect that reality.
  4. Allow Employees to Trade Shifts With Each Other
    If you work in an industry like retail or food service where employees work varying schedules, don’t make it onerous for them to trade shifts. Find an app that lets them do it themselves or create another system that allows them to trade or give away shifts. While you’re at it, talk to your employees about how they feel about the shifts they have. If you always give a Friday night shift to the same person, make sure that they are ok with it or set up a rotation. While seniority should count for something, you still want to make sure that all your employees believe the system is fair.
  5. Ask Employees What They Need
    Often employees will be reluctant to speak up because they don’t want to seem as though they are complaining. Yet there might be some aspect of their hours that are challenging and could easily be changed. For example, a team meeting first thing in the morning can be hard for a parent. If it’s all the same to you, you could move the meeting to 10 a.m., or let them dial in from home. If it would accomplish the same goal, you could also cancel the meeting altogether and have people share their updates via email or a project management software.

    You might also find that a devoted employee would work an extra hour or two after he has put his kids to bed if it allows him to leave early to see a soccer game or oversee homework time. Someone else who is a caregiver might happily cover early shifts that no one else wants in exchange for one afternoon a week off. The key is to ask your team what they need or want; let them know that you can’t always accommodate them, but you’re willing to try.

  6. Set Up Processes to Track Remote Work
    Even if your staff is trustworthy, it can be a big leap to just let employees work from home on the honor system. It’s perfectly reasonable to set up expectations that a telecommuter has to be available at a certain time, or that employees must log into the work system so that you can track their hours. Keeping the controls a little tighter when you start offers the chance to eventually loosen them if things go well. Remember, it feels much more punitive to go the other way so err on the side of caution as you explore these new freedoms.

  7. Focus on Output Rather Than “Face Time”
    The key to making it all work: Does it really matter where your team is doing their work as long as they are doing it? In some types of organizations, of course it does. But in others, the focus could shift from when and where the goals were accomplished to just the fact that they were.

 


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Mothers or Caregivers – Ways Employers Can Support Them

Employers are good resources of support for caregiver employee population

A Nation
Of Caregivers: Five Ways To Support Your Employees

We are an aging nation, and that means the caregiving population is
growing exponentially; in fact, many professionals are part of the “sandwich
generation,” caring for both elderly parents and younger children.

A Pew
Research study estimated
that almost half of adults in their 40s and 50s have a living parent who is
65 years or older while simultaneously raising a young child or financially
supporting a child age 18 or older. Of those, 30 percent say their parent needs
help managing some aspect of their life.

And that can take a toll on the caregivers at your workplace—and make
no mistake, your workplace is likely full of caregivers. One study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and
AARP found that  more
than 34 million Americans had provided unpaid care to an adult
age
50 or older in the prior 12 months. And that number is sure to increase, given
the aging of our population: The
U.S. Census Bureau
says that by 2030, 20 percent of U.S. residents will be
of retirement age.

Human resource executives have a unique position in helping support employees who face the responsibility and pressure of caregiving. Here are some strategies you can provide to help them:

1. Awareness — Think How It Impacts Your Workplace

As the numbers above show, caregiving is not an isolated issue. But what
you might not realize is the effect it can have on your workplace. A study on “The Many Faces of Caregiving” found = that 14 percent
of employee caregivers reduce their work hours or take a demotion, and another
5 percent give up working entirely, which can have a chilling effect
on retention in today’s tight labor market.

Further, the
AARP and the Family Caregiver Alliance
found
that employee caregiving costs employers costs up to $33 billion annually from
lost productivity; $6.6 billion in costs to replace employees who retire early
or quit to focus on caregiving; and $5.1 billion in absenteeism.

2. Connection – Think How You Can Offer Resources

Helping connect caregivers to resources can help them manage some of
the “mental” workload associated with caregiving. Unfortunately, that important
benefit seems to be on the wane—just when we are needing it most. In fact, in a
puzzling development, the Society
of Human Resource Management’s 2018 Benefits Survey
found that the
percentage of employers offering eldercare had dropped 10 percentage
points—from 13 percent in 2017 down to 10 percent, with an equal drop in those
offering referral service benefits.

There are many ways you can help
support these team members. If there are a number
of caregivers
at your business, consider hosting support groups or inviting
guest speakers to brown bag lunch meetings to share insight and best practices.
You also could consider starting a repository of local or online resources that
might be available. A few to consider are:

3. Work Time – Consider a Flex Work Hour Structure

Does “face time” really matter? In some workplaces of course, it’s
pivotal that employees be at work for the hours they are supposed to,
particularly if they handle customer-facing functions. For others, a modicum of
flexibility could allow a valued worker to handle both their full-time job and
their caregiving duties. While they might need to attend doctor’s appointment
with their loved ones during the day, they could take care of writing reports
or doing research in the evening hours.

The great news is that offering flexibility can help promote satisfaction
and reduce turnover—a study found
that 87 percent of
workers whose
employers enable them to manage life in and outside of work are more loyal and
satisfied.

4. Wellbeing – Encourage Healthy Habits for All

While caregivers in particular can benefit from stress-relieving
activities like yoga classes or meditation, cultivating healthy habits and an
overall workplace culture focused on wellness can be important for all
employees. Many caregivers tend to neglect their own health, so prioritizing workplace
wellness ideas
, such as offering ideas for healthy cooking and incorporating
exercise into the day, can benefit your entire team—but certainly caregivers
specifically.

5. Transparency – Help Caregivers Understand Benefits

You want to make sure that caregivers are using all the
benefits available to them
, such as short-term disability leave options or
the Family Medical Leave Act. Make sure they know who is covered and how they
can access these benefits. You also can provide information on access to any
mental health services they might need. After all, it’s in everyone’s best
interest to keep your employees able to do their job while still managing the
important caregiving duties that have befallen them.


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What the Candidate Driven Marketplace Means for HR

Candidate Driven Workplace Puts Pressure on HR to provide best in class benefits

With a candidate driven marketplace, HR professionals are realizing more and more that finding the right candidate is a two-way street; you are interviewing them of course, but in return, they are also assessing your company’s culture and offerings for the right fit. In fact, often it can seem as though there are more open positons than qualified candidates, which can lead you to wonder who is interviewing who?  

Here are five suggestions for putting your best foot forward in your quest to attract top talent.

Create a Positive Social Media Presence

Candidates today are looking for a great “fit,” and they will often turn to social media to find out if you walk the talk—just like you’re probably mining their social media to find out about them. Especially in a candidate driven job market, it is critical to maintain a robust presence, even inviting employees to post fun shots of their workdays, provided they follow any existing social media policy.

Many companies find they have success starting a social media account devoted exclusively to recruiting; while others fold it into their general platform that also includes news and other company details. Either way, it can paint a powerful picture of your company and the fun and challenging work you do collaboratively.

While websites like Glassdoor.com promote transparency, it also means that candidates are seeking behind-the-scenes intel on what it’s really like to work at your company. Especially in a candidate driven market, it is important as an employer that you know what’s being said about your company online. While you can’t take down reviews you don’t agree with, you can take the opportunity to respond to the poster to state your case.

Be Positive, Candid and Open

No matter how appealing a candidate looks, you don’t want to make promises you can’t keep in the interview process as it will only come back to bite you. Remember that not all policies might be as lenient as you would prefer—for example, some companies just aren’t set up to accommodate flexible schedules or virtual work. Instead, let candidates know what you can do to make sure you are addressing their needs the best way you can. And if you promise to follow up on a certain point, make sure you do.

Be prepared with insightful answers to questions they might ask about the position, their trajectory and the qualities you seek in a candidate; along with more specific questions about the company and its competitive differentiators and growth plans.

And note how you feel if candidates are routinely asking questions that have answers you don’t like, such as a culture that could use some work. You might need to rally other C-level employees and rethink your company vibe so you can create a culture that you are proud of and that will make your workplace stand out.

Offer Top-Tier Benefits

While a competitive salary is important, especially in a tight labor market, today’s candidates will also be pushing for the best options in benefits. Throughout the interview process, showcase the many exceptional offerings you have, from medical and wellness offerings to disability insurance and retirement choices.

Keep Candidates Informed Every Step of the Way

Job seekers frequently complain that human resources managers don’t keep them in the loop or communicate often enough. It would be a shame to see a good candidate slip away just because you didn’t get back to them in a timely manner, and they mistook it for indifference. While we hope candidates are thanking you and your team for your time, it’s smart to do the same for candidates—and all part of the wooing process.  When there are more jobs than candidates, as an employer, response time could be dealbreaker in landing that dream hire.

Don’t Wait Too Long to Hire

It’s tempting to wonder if the grass is greener and dip back into the candidate pool, but delaying means you could risk losing a top-notch interviewee. In fact one study found that top-tier candidates were off the market in just 10 days.  Another study found that nearly a quarter of candidates declined an offer because the employer took too long to extend it.

Once you’ve made an offer, don’t leave anything else to chance. Start your onboarding immediately to keep the new recruit engaged and ready to show up on the first day.

The candidate-driven market can be challenging to adjust to, but can yield excellent results if you focus on why you are an employer of choice.


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Helping Your Team with Financial Literacy (Without Overstepping Your Bounds)

As Financial Literacy Month winds down, it’s the perfect time to talk with your employees about financial wellness, which is every bit as important as physical wellness.

In fact, the stress caused by financial issues is pervasive. The 2018 PwC Employee Financial Wellness Survey found that financial stress isn’t limited to one generation–Millennials, GenX and Baby Boomers alike report stress created by financial challenges and money matters. Nearly half (47 percent) report stress related to their financial situation, and 41 percent say their stress level as it pertains to financial issues has increased over the past 12 months.

It’s tempting to say “Well, their financial life isn’t our problem…we pay them well, and what they do with their money is their business.” But you might be surprised to find that assistance with financial matters was named as the top desired employee benefit they don’t already have.

Here are some ways that you can help your employees feel more financially secure—and help them increase their financial literacy.

Survey and Learn What Employees Need

While the issues might vary among different employees and demographics, it’s helpful to know what’s keeping them awake at night—whether it’s paying off their student loans, helping save for their child’s education or scraping together a down payment on a home. Knowing what issues are most worrisome can help you determine where you might want to provide extra support, and perhaps even look into new benefit offerings that help ease their burden. For example, some forward-thinking companies have started offering a wide array of potential benefits, such as disability insurance, student loan reimbursement, pet health insurance or childcare assistance.

Boost Financial Literacy with a Game

You might be surprised to find that employees don’t know as much about financial terms as you think, and it’s hard for them to make a wise choice between a PPO and HMO, for instance, if they don’t understand the relative merits of each one. Some employees might benefit from an adjustable rate mortgage if they are only living in a house temporarily, but they’ve only ever heard of a conventional loan. Employees are much more likely to pay attention to dry financial terms when you present them in a fun way…from a TV-style game show quiz or a team trivia game (with snacks and prizes of course!).

Incentivize Them to Save More

Want to increase your employees’ savings? Try some of the more creative new programs that HR departments are using, such as automatically opting “in” to a savings program (rather than having them decide) and auto-increasing their rate of savings. Or have a financial wellness game where each employee chooses a goal and aims to save $5 a day toward their vision. Have them report on how they are achieving the savings, from brown bagging their lunch to walking right past that sale at the shoe store.

Bring in an Expert

From retirement savings to mortgages, employees often don’t understand a wide variety of financial concepts—the very backbone of “financial literacy.” Brainstorm types of professionals you know who might be willing to come in and share their expertise. These could include:

Having an expert provide a “lunch and learn” can up employees’ confidence on financial issues and introduce them to an avenue to turn to when they have questions.

Offer Additional Resources

Inviting a professional to share expertise is engaging, but often employees need even more information. Compile a list of resources you can offer, such as

Secure Healthy Lifelong Financial Wellness

Finally, realize that not every employee understands the many benefit options that are available to them—and therefore aren’t taking advantage of them. During Financial Literacy Month, set up one-on-ones or small groups to review available coverage and answer questions about what programs might be right for them. Cover such topics as disability insurance, the various health plans you offer and any other financially related benefit your company provides.  The Council on Economic Education also offers state by state education groups.

After all, you care about your employees’ well-being, and you also want to make sure their work is not affected by financial stress. Helping them with financial literacy can ensure they are equipped with the money smarts they need.


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What Every Employee Should Know About Their Tax Refund

 

Based on early 2019 returns, the average tax refund is $2,640, down by more than 16 percent compared with the same period for 2018. What gives, your employees might ask? This will be hard for them to swallow, but it’s actually good news.  Basically, instead of a bigger refund at the end, they have been getting more in their paycheck each week throughout the year, but not even realizing it.

As an HR professional, it can sometimes be challenging to help employees make wise choices with their money. However, tax refund time is a fantastic opportunity to approach some financial wellness issues.

First, remember that it’s important to share with your colleagues that tax refunds aren’t “free money.” While it’s exciting to receive a “windfall” in the form of a tax refund in April, that money has been held interest-free by Uncle Sam all year long.

So the first step might be to invite them to review their withholding to see if they want to make any changes. If so, they can fill out Form W-4 to make any changes—potentially having even more money in their paycheck each month.

If they’re on board, you can share some ideas of what they can then do with that money on a regular basis.

Invest in Their Retirement

If your company offers a retirement plan, like a 401(k), remind each employee to consider checking that they are making use of it—especially if you offer a company match. That’s essentially free money that your employee might be forgoing in their quest to amass a large refund.

Keep Credit Card Debt at Bay

Another byproduct of forgoing extra monthly money to try to nab that big return is that they might be accruing unnecessary interest on their credit cards. While it’s important to discuss the wise use of credit, it can be hard for employees to get out of the mindset that they can rack up their credit card bills, expecting to use that April windfall to pay them off. In the meantime, the interest they are paying means that they are really just paying their own money out of pocket to the credit card company, while (as we said!) Uncle Sam is keeping their money interest free. Explaining the dichotomy might help them see that they would be far better off adjusting their withholding rather than waiting to pay the balance off in a lump sum.

Elect to Take Extra Benefits

Many companies offer employees the opportunity to buy additional policies, such as long-term disability or life insurance. While no one likes to confront the fact that they may need them, the reality is that no one can ever know what might happen. In fact, statistics show that more than a quarter of today’s young adults aged 20 can expect to be out of work for at least one year at some point in their career. Applying that extra in their paycheck to these extra benefits can mean the world to them—and their family—should they need it.

Establish an HSA

Many companies offer high-deductible health plans, that often come with a Health Savings Account, or HSA. Employees can make tax-deductible contributions and then use the money to pay for any eventual care—effectively making their healthcare dollars go farther.

Make an Extra Payment on a Mortgage

If an employee holds a mortgage, they may be surprised how much they can save over the life of the loan just by making an extra payment each month—or even each year—in the form of reduced interest. Some mortgages may not allow pre-payment.  You might suggest they speak with their lender to find out if they can make an extra payment penalty-free. If so, ask the lender to share the math about the difference that might make over the long term. The results can be eye-opening.

While you should always make sure your employees seek tax advice from a professional, providing general financial wellness information can help them make better financial decisions. Challenge them to think about whether changing their withholding might help them make smarter financial decisions all year long, rather than relying on a windfall that might come too late.


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In a crisis? How disability benefits can support you

More than 155 million U.S. workers are insured for a disability through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. They receive this insurance coverage through their payroll taxes, or FICA taxes, as a part of the Social Security program.

When those who experience a chronic health condition, injury or sudden medical crisis need support – SSDI is there to help. It’s estimated that fewer than one in three U.S. workers have private disability insurance, which means their primary means of assistance, if they experience a work-disrupting disability, is SSDI.

Health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, stroke and Type 2 diabetes are among the chronic illnesses that can interrupt someone’s time on the job. Sudden severe health issues include heart attack, aneurysm, traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury.

These dire circumstances are when the SSDI program is most vital for former workers. The average SSDI recipient is 54 years old and has worked 22 years before a disability occurs and they apply.

The following are the top reasons men and women apply for disability insurance benefits:

1. Income to support yourself and your family. Men and women apply for disability benefits because if they’re approved, they’ll receive important income to sustain their households while they deal with stabilization of, and possible recovery from, their health issue. For some individuals, a health crisis may require 2, 3 or 4 years of treatment and rehabilitation to reach stability before returning to work. Without the ability to earn income, the SSDI program becomes a vital financial support. In 2019, the average monthly benefit for a disabled worker is $1,234, which is about $14,800 annually. For a disabled worker with a family, it increases to $2,130 per month, or $25,560 per year.

2. Health insurance for your medical needs. Another crucial benefit for people who apply for Social Security disability benefits is healthcare coverage through Medicare. Individuals approved for benefits will become eligible for Medicare 24 months after their cash SSDI benefits begin. For some, the wait to receive approval may last 24 months or longer, as they wait for the Social Security Administration to review their claim through appeals. This means many people are immediately able to access Medicare once the SSA approves benefits. Access to healthcare is especially vital for individuals with disabilities dealing with chronic health conditions and degenerative diseases, since ongoing, expensive treatment often can be required.

3. Protect your retirement benefits. Many individuals can discover an important protection by applying for disability benefits, called the “retirement freeze.” You may be aware that the SSA tracks your reported earning over the course of your working career to calculate your Social Security retirement benefits. This includes the years that you don’t work because of a disability: Those years are counted as $0 in earnings. However, if you apply for SSDI and are approved, this means those years with $0 earnings are not factored into your retirement benefit, with the potential to receive more in retirement as a result.

4. Protect your long-term disability income. For workers who have purchased long-term disability insurance benefits, they also receive an important protection. Most LTD insurance plans are designed to integrate with SSDI, so participating workers benefit from lower LTD premiums. Individuals can also benefit from immediate access to income following a disability with their LTD coverage, and then turn to SSDI as another source of support, including income, Medicare and other program benefits. Applying for SSDI provides a protection that can help ensure LTD benefits also continue for former workers.

5. Support for going back to work again. Another advantage when applying for disability benefits is the ability to receive return-to-work protections. Individuals can access important incentives when approved for SSDI benefits. These protections include a trial work period, 9 months over the course of 60 months (5 years), to try working and earning as much as you can and still receive SSDI benefits. Following this period, you have an extended period of eligibility of 36 months to be able to work, earn money and receive SSDI benefits whenever your earnings fall below a certain level. Many other incentives are available to help those who don’t want to give up on returning to work.




Paid and Unpaid Leave: What You Need to Know (And How You Can Be Protected Without It)

Benefit packages can be confusing to understand, and – it’s sad but true – many times are forgotten the minute the onboarding paperwork is signed. Unfortunately that leaves many employees not fully understanding their benefits package, and one area of frequent confusion is what their “paid” and “unpaid” leave options are. Not being clear on what you can collect can either lead you not to take advantage of benefits you are due, or could lull you into thinking you are going to get paid more than you actually are.

Let’s break down the difference and share some insight into figuring out how you can make sure you have access to these important benefits.

Paid Leave

Getting paid when you’re not working? Sounds like a dream, right? In actuality, though, it’s a benefit that you earn through your service. At most workplaces, you are probably most familiar with paid leave as it applies to major holidays, vacation time, sick time, etc. In some cases, you let your HR department know how you are using your paid leave (“I’m sick!”), and in other cases, it’s all lumped together as “Paid Time Off” that you use at your discretion (“I’m sick of work!”)

But paid leave is also a benefit that allows workers to take part of their pay while you take more of an extended time away from work. This comes into play when you are dealing with a serious health condition — one that needs either inpatient care or ongoing treatment from a provider (including pregnancy) — caring for a family member with a serious health condition or caring for a newborn or newly adopted child or new foster child.

Paid leave is also offered to military personnel, under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)  if your military compensation is less than what you would be being paid at your company.

Note that only a few states have laws requiring paid leave for various circumstances. And while many companies have their own, more generous policies, the benefit is not as widespread as you might imagine: The National Partnership for Women and Families, a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group, estimates that only 17 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers.

Unpaid Leave

This is just what it sounds like – leave that is unpaid, but is designed to protect your job (and status and benefits) so you don’t have to quit in the event you need time off for a health situation.

The most well-known source of unpaid time off is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for newborns or seriously ill family members for employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the prior year for a company that has 50 or more employees. Typically you will exhaust your paid leave first and then you can begin collecting these benefits.

Some military leave, such as deploying with the National Guard, also typically qualifies as unpaid leave.

Remember that companies may offer an extended unpaid leave of absence or other time off that may protect your job even above and beyond what they have to by law. It’s vital to talk to your HR department and get all the particulars in writing before taking leave.

How Disability Policies Can Keep Your Paycheck Intact

Whether or not your state or company offers ample paid leave, disability insurance (or, as we like to call it, “income insurance”) is a smart addition to your benefits package. Although fewer than 40 percent have access to personal medical leave through short-term disability insurance that is provided by their employer, most workplaces offer you the option of purchasing more. It’s a decision that can save your finances should the unexpected happen.

Check into both short-term policies, which typically run from 13 to 26 weeks, and long-term policies, which kick in when you have exhausted your short-term benefits. These policies cover a percentage of your pay up to your full pay depending on their conditions.

While most workers believe they will never need disability insurance, statistics show that nearly one-quarter of the 20-year-olds in today’s workforce will miss at least a year of work due to a health condition before they reach retirement age.

Disability coverage is an important benefit every worker should be well aware of to augment your existing paid and unpaid leave.




Time to Invest in You: Ways to Make Your Retirement a Reality

By Rachel Barrow, AVP Marketing, Individual Markets, Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America®

Dreaming about retirement may bring to mind relaxation, travel, and leisure time. Many people find, though, that planning for it can be stressful – but it doesn’t have to be that way. If open enrollment time has you thinking about how you’ll fund your retirement, you’re not alone. A recent survey by the Employment Benefit Research Institute1 shows that retirees are less confident than they were last year that they will have enough money saved for basic expenses, health care, or long-term care.

How can you face the future with more confidence? Look for resources to help you chart this path. Turn to your current employer for help; Guardian’s 5th Annual Workplace Benefits Study,2 Small Business, Big Benefits, states that over 44 percent of small businesses are increasing employee financial education over the next five years to help employees make better benefits decisions. Or, make a plan that’s focused on what you feel will matter most to you in retirement (family, lifestyle, relationships, health, etc.), seek out the best retirement strategies and products and, most of all, invest in yourself. It can help you go a long way toward making your second act (retirement) a reality.

Plan with care

As you start considering your retirement plan, it helps to look at how certain financial products can help you reach your goals. Whether those products protect future income, help cover future care, protect your earning ability from the possibility of premature death, accidents, or long-term illness, or provide for market-related growth opportunities, having a well-rounded package of products may make a difference.

To create the best retirement strategy, you need to balance having the right products in place, while recognizing some of the issues you may encounter along the way. Keep these ideas in mind while you are planning your future:

  • Keep up with your defined contribution (DC) plan: Open enrollment is an excellent time to increase how much money you’re saving, but you can ordinarily do it anytime throughout the year (based on your plan’s provisions). Many retirement planners underestimate the amount they will need to maintain the standard of living they want. Remember to account for inflation, health care costs, and unexpected expenses you may encounter.
  • Keep a diversified investment portfolio: As you examine your investment choices during open enrollment, remember the benefits of a diversified selection of investments. Even if your investment choices get more conservative as retirement approaches, you may not want to avoid stocks entirely. After all, keeping pace with inflation can help your nest egg retain its purchasing power. See your financial advisor to discuss how you feel about risk and your retirement income goals.
  • Have realistic retirement income goals: The old rule of thumb is that you will need 80 percent of your annual pre-retirement income, because of the (assumed) reduced cost of living in retirement, including the possible elimination of mortgage payments. But when you factor in health care costs, dining out, travel, and pursuing other passions, this amount may not be enough for you. Take the time to do the math and don’t be shy to get help from a financial professional.

Explore your options and mind any gaps

After you do your calculations, if you find your projections mean you may be falling short of your retirement income goals, don’t despair. Whether you feel you’ll have a shortfall in your retirement budget or are just trying to find solid, reliable sources to pay future expenses, focusing on guaranteed monthly income can help.

Many experts agree. For instance, Robert Merton (MIT professor and co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences) wrote in Harvard Business Review3 that people should focus their retirement planning on monthly income instead of trying to find a magic number of how much they’ll need in total retirement savings.

What are the sources of guaranteed income that can help you produce the monthly retirement income you’ll need? Some will be familiar to you; others may not be. But it’s worth taking a close look at guaranteed income, the products that provide it, and how they can be an essential source of monthly retirement income:

  • Social Security: Just about everyone knows about Social Security, but how much do you think you’ll receive? Visit the Social Security Administration’s Retirement Estimator4 to find out. When you see your estimated future benefit, keep in mind that Social Security generally only accounts for part of most people’s retirement income – and that your future benefits are not (at this point in time) guaranteed.
  • Company Pensions: If you’re lucky enough to work for an employer that offers a pension plan, be grateful. Once a major source of guaranteed retirement income, employer-sponsored pensions are not a common benefit offering today.
  • Bonds and CDs: These investments give predictable (if not absolutely guaranteed) returns, with possible tax advantages, and can help round out your investment portfolio. Their rates of return can be somewhat limited, however.
  • Annuities: By paying an insurance company a specified amount of money, you can receive regular payments for a set amount of time, or for life. There are many different types of annuities that can establish cash flow now (immediate annuities) or later (deferred annuities) – at fixed or variable interest rates.

Invest in yourself

Budgeting for your retirement can seem like a daunting task, but making a plan is the first step. Pause, build a checklist of tasks for yourself, and check off each one as you complete it. It also helps to consult a financial professional, who can help you identify your unique retirement vision – and the steps you can take to help yourself achieve it.

Each person’s plan will be different. The important thing is that you take the time to invest in your own future. You may find that it not only alleviates stress, but also helps you take the first step toward achieving the retirement of your dreams.

Rachel Barrow leads the Product Marketing team for Individual Markets at The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America®. She has been with Guardian since 2009 and in the insurance business for over 20 years. Her team produces educational tools and resources focused on strategies to help individuals, families and small business owners achieve financial security.

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1 Employee Benefit Research Institute (2018, April 24). 2018 Retirement Confidence Survey. Retrieved from: https://www.ebri.org/docs/default-source/rcs/1_2018rcs_report_v5mgachecked.pdf?sfvrsn=e2e9302f_2

2 5th Annual Workplace Benefits Study (2018, October 15), Small Business, Big Benefits. https://www.guardiananytime.com/gafd/wps/portal/fdhome/insights-perspectives/emerging-trends/small-business-benefits-study

3 Merton, Robert C. (2014, July-August). The Crisis in Retirement Planning. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/07/the-crisis-in-retirement-planning

4 Social Security Administration. How the Retirement Estimator Works. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/estimator.html