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.


 




Is Stress Affecting Your Workers? (Short Answer: Yes) Here’s What To Do About It

 

 

Here’s why we are so confident about the answer to the question: Work-related stress is the leading workplace health problem, finds the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently included “burnout” in its new edition of the International Classification of Diseases, describing it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

The good news is that are ways that you can help ramp down the stress. Here are five things to try to help your team manage their stress.

  1. Help Them With Financial Wellness

    Money is the No. 1 cause of stress among Americans, and not coincidentally, help with financial planning is one of the top benefits that creates satisfaction among employees. Of course, you’d probably love to give all your employees a raise to help relieve some financial stress. However, the next best thing is helping them better manage the money they do have. Consider launching a series of seminars that tackle big topics—invite a real estate agent to talk about buying a home and available down payment programs; a financial planner who can give tips on budgeting and saving; or an accountant to give advice on tax matters.

  2. Promote Healthy Habits

    Corporate wellness programs are on the rise, finds the 2018 Employee Benefits Survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). But you don’t have to spend a fortune to help your employees engage in healthier habits. Consider swapping out the pastries at morning meetings for fresh fruit; holding walking meetings; moving the printer to encourage people to add a few steps; or hosting a daily stretching session. All these little changes can add up to make your employees feel better—which will reduce stress.

  3. Minimize the Sunday Scaries

    Yep, that’s a thing, and it refers to the stress that employees start feeling as they look ahead to the upcoming week. In fact, an overwhelming 80 percent of workers report feeling this angst, finds LinkedIn.

    One major source of stress is a barrage of emails that can make them feel like they are always working, even in their off hours. You might want to take a cue from companies that have started asking managers not to email their employees in the evenings or on the weekend, as a way to alleviate the pressure that workers report feeling to always be available. It’s fine for managers to dive into their inbox at a time that works for them, but encourage them to queue up the email and send it during work hours so the employee doesn’t feel a need to respond. (In France it’s even a law!)

    You also might consider making Monday a day that workers look forward to, by starting the morning with energetic music from a playlist curated by an employee or hosting a special Monday luncheon.

  4. Offer Flexibility

    Of course not every workplace can allow workers to set their own hours, but many times you could incorporate an element of flexibility that may make a big difference in your team members’ lives. For example, the young dad rushing to get to daycare before it closes at 5 might benefit from shifting his schedule 30 minutes off your stated “work hours.” Or, he could finish work at home after the kids have gone to bed. The goal is to take note of people in your office who might be caregivers or have other responsibilities, and focus on their productivity and output, rather than their desk time. 

  5. Fully Explain Your Benefits – Urge Workers to Take Advantage of Them

    Worrying about future unknowns can cause a great deal of stress for your team, but your benefit programs can go a long way toward protecting your employees. The key is to help them understand exactly what their benefits offer, such as how contributing to their 401(k) or other retirement plan can help set them up for future stability, or how adequate life insurance and disability insurance can protect them and their loved ones in the event of a tragedy. 

By taking steps to alleviate your workers’ stress, you can help protect both their mental and physical health. At the same time, you can ensure that they are bringing their best, most productive selves to work every day.  




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.




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.




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!




How to Reduce Employee Financial Stress for a Healthier Workforce… and Bottom Line

 

This content was provided by the Council for Disability Awareness Member Lincoln Financial Group®

 

Employee financial wellness is a hot topic today, and for good reason. A recent survey shows that employees spend five to 13 hours per month worrying about their personal finances while at work.  Without the necessary support, employees are more stressed, and thus more distracted. For employers, this translates into a nearly $250 billion loss in healthcare, productivity, and lost wages every year.1

Some studies show that financial stress, especially in the workplace, is at its highest level in five years.2 And, while every employee’s situation is different, many face the same financial stresses – the most common monetary challenges facing employees typically include:

  • Heavy debt
  • Vanishing pensions
  • Retirement savings
  • High student loan debt
  • Increasing healthcare premiums
  • Out-of-pocket health expenses such as deductibles, copays, and coinsurance

How Employers Can Help Employees Reduce Financial Stress

With employees spending the majority of their day at their designated places of work, employers have an opportunity to incentivize change and offer solutions to this population.  Employers can help employees better manage their concerns with a mix of financial wellness programs and quality voluntary benefits.  Click here for tips to help employees learn about how to build financial literacy.

Financial Wellness Programs

Employee financial wellness programs can help employees find balance and control over their finances, now and throughout their lifetime. Gaining in popularity, these programs have become a key workplace trend in 2017.3 because they can meet the needs of employees by educating them on how to manage and overcome personal finance issues. Some of the more popular financial wellness programs include:

  • Debt management and reduction
  • Budgeting tools and resources
  • Investing and financial market basics
  • Asset management and saving for home purchase, college, retirement, and other goals.

Employers can approach financial wellness by engaging employees throughout their lives, with a focus on guiding employees towards action. One important objective is to help employees reach their goals for every stage of their financial lives, whether it’s saving for a house, a car, college, or retirement. The key takeaway for these types of programs is to select the right financial wellness program that addresses the specific needs of employees in your business and offer them the resources they find valuable.

Organizations have every reason to want their employees to be financially sound. An effectively designed employee financial wellness program can help employers:

  • Bolster productivity, because employees aren’t distracted by financial worries.
  • Drive more predictable workforce flow throughout the organization.
  • Result in improved physical health (people with high levels of financial stress are more prone to sickness).
  • Increase employee engagement and retention.
  • Create more affordable retirement opportunities for all employees and enable career advancement opportunities for younger employees.

Having a clear understanding of the business benefits of financial wellness, integrated within the overall wellness and HR talent/acquisition strategy ensures corporate commitment and is key to a successful financial wellness program.

Voluntary Benefits

As an employer, you understand how employee well-being impacts the workplace on many levels,  and will want to ensure it is not affected by financial stress. Not every employee understands the many benefit options that are available to them. Therefore, it is worth investigating ways to help them really understand the benefits your company can offer to ensure they are equipped with the financial knowledge they need.

A thoughtful mix of voluntary benefits can help employees better manage unexpected medical costs associated with a critical illness or accident. That is to say, voluntary benefits plans are easy to implement and cost-effective for employers as the employee typically selects the plan, and pays the premium. Three of the most popular voluntary benefit product offerings are:

  • Accident
    Provides a lump-sum for a wide range of covered accidental injuries from simple fractures to third-degree burns
  • Critical Illness
    Provides a lump-sum benefit if an employee is diagnosed with a covered critical illness
  • Hospital Indemnity
    Provides a lump-sum when a covered illness or injury results in hospitalization


Voluntary benefits offer key advantages:

  • Most policies are portable
  • No copays, deductible, or coinsurance
  • Benefits paid directly to the employee
  • Employer group rates are generally lower than an employee can purchase separately.

Employers can provide employees with special financing vehicles that may have tax advantages, including: health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) using pre-tax dollars to pay eligible healthcare expenses, dependent care FSAs for eligible dependent care services, and a health savings account to help employees pay expenses in a high-deductible health plan.  Your voluntary benefit options send the message to your employees that you’re listening to their concerns and priorities. Get it right, and your benefits dollars will be well spent and will pay off in terms of employee satisfaction and retention. In fact, Sixty-two percent of Millennial and 50 percent of Gen X employees say that their loyalty to their company is influenced by how much the company cares about their financial well-being.2 Employers that implement an employee financial wellness strategy and clearly communicate available benefits resources can make a positive impact in the workplace: for employees, and for the company… a win/win.


Sources

[1] Mercer Survey. “Inside Employees’ Minds – Financial Wellness, Volume 2.” 2017. Retrieved from https://www.mercer.com/newsroom/financial-stress-could-cost-us-employers-up-to-250-billion-in-lost-wages-annually-finds-new-mercer-survey.html

[2] PwC. Employee Financial Wellness Survey. 2017. Retrieved from https://www.pwc.com/us/en/ private-company-services/publications/financial- well-being-retirement-survey.html

[3] S Miller. Is 2017 the Year of Employee Financial Wellness Programs? Society for Human Resource Management. Jan. 17, 2017. Retrieved from:
https:// www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/financial-wellness-trend.aspx

 




The Value of Disability Insurance as Income Security


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


The ability to earn an income is essential to modern living, yet more Americans often prioritize protecting their home, car, health, and teeth over helping protect their income with insurance. When a life event that causes a disability occurs, even in the short-term, it can disrupt an employee’s financial security, especially if they are unprepared for a work absence.  In fact, according to the American Council on Life Insurers, over 50 million Americans are without disability insurance.  Here’s why it matters:

Even a short unemployed break can cause financial instability. Given that more than half of working Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, most cannot go without one for a single pay period, let alone three or more months. Let’s put this in perspective – working adults have about $5,000 in emergency savings, which disappears quickly considering the U.S. median monthly cost for housing, food, and transportation is roughly $3,000.[1] Those who’ve had a disability leave report emergency savings of just $2,500.[2]

We recently released our latest set of findings from Guardian’s 6th Annual Workplace Benefits Study for a financial wellness report titled Income Protection: The Role of Disability Insurance in Financial Wellness,” which finds only 54% of working Americans have disability insurance. The report validates that there are still a lot of misconceptions around the value of disability insurance. For example, many adults believe the product is for people who suffer from disabilities that are catastrophic or that it’s for disabilities which happen at work and covered by workers compensation. This is where education plays a critical role in helping employees understand that disability insurance serves as income replacement should you be out of work for an extended period of time.

While a competitive salary is important, especially in today’s low unemployment job market,  candidates will also be pushing for the best options in benefits. For employers, including disability insurance as part of your overall employee benefits offering can demonstrate that you care about your workforce’s financial security and wellness. Disability insurance has benefits everyone, regardless of age, gender or profession, should consider:

  • Income Protection
    While living paycheck-to-paycheck, workers don’t save for emergencies, such as an unexpected, unpaid leave of absence or disability. Emergency savings go fast when they have to cover pay regular monthly expenses on top of medical bills. Guardians’ study found 49% of those surveyed that did not have disability insurance withdrew from savings, investments or retirement plans to pay for their injury. Disability insurance provides an extra layer of income protection, which can make it easier to take care of financial responsibilities and not have to leverage other financial sources

  • Understanding Disability Insurance

    Guardian found only one in 25 consumers exhibit a high level of disability insurance knowledge. Today’s disability insurance programs now offer a variety of features to help employees navigate and understand their benefits. Some of those features include online enrollment payroll deduction and no medical exam to enroll. Even if certain employers can’t offer employer-sponsored disability insurance, they can provide access via an employee-funded disability insurance product. That shows flexibility and commitment to employees’ long-term financial health and well-being.
     

  • Improved Worker Satisfaction

    Guardian’s study indicates offering disability insurance can enhance overall work satisfaction (71% vs. 54%), as employees feel their company truly cares about them. Companies that offer return-to-work programs see an extra boost in satisfaction, as 70% feel their employer cares for them after completing a program.

  • Integrated Absence Management

    Absences can be hard on both an employee and an employer. Integrating an absence management program with disability insurance can help employers navigate the ever-changing paid leave laws that vary by state. Consultants and benefits carriers can work together to deliver a holistic, integrated plan that will keep employers covered and deliver a seamless employee experience.  With all these benefits available, employers and employees should re-evaluate the way they think about disability insurance plans. Signing up for disability insurance is really a way for individuals to help protect their incomes.

Disability insurance offers protection and satisfaction to both employers and employees, making it one of the most valuable products in a benefits portfolio. Nobody can predict the future, but it’s always wise to prepare for the unexpected. For more details on the financial wellness paper,click here.


The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York, NY. Unless otherwise noted, the source of all information is Guardian’s 6th Annual Workplace Benefits Study, report titled: “Income Protection: The Role of Disability Insurance in Financial Wellness (2019).

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[1] 20 Something Finance, (2019) “The Shocking Percentage of Americans that Live Paycheck-to-Paycheck.”

[2] Guardian’s 6th Annual Workplace Benefits Study, Financial Wellness Series, Part 2,“Income Protection: The Role of Disability Insurance in Financial Wellness,” (2019) p. 10.




Three Ways Employers Can Foster Engagement for Caregivers

Employers need to understand the growing number of caregivers in their workforce and provide appropriate benefits to support them.

By Phil Bruen, Vice President
Group Life and Disability Products, MetLife


 

As work and life continue to blend, employees are seeking additional support from their employers for handling personal needs. Many employed workers also serve as caregivers – for children as well as ill or aging loved ones. Because of its prevalence in the modern workplace, employers will need to understand its impact.

While they give so much support to others, we tend not to talk about what caregivers can and should be doing to protect themselves. Because caregivers spend so much time focusing on others, as employers, it is critical to take time to focus on them. Because, if caregivers continuously ignore their own health and wellness, it could cause the caregiver themselves to face medical issues down the road.

As employers continue the need to attract and retain talent in this low unemployment environment, a focus on providing and communicating tools and policies for caregivers that also work a full-time job is increasingly important.

According to recent data from a MetLife survey of 1,000 Americans, 41 percent of full-time workers are caregivers. This includes those who provide support for a dependent child, senior or both. The survey also revealed that on top of those that are already caregivers, an additional 14 percent say they expect to take on caregiving responsibilities in the next five years. Following are insights into how to foster a greater working environment for this growing cohort of workers.


1. Consider a Caregiving Paid Time Off Policy

While employers have obligations to provide job protection for caregiving leaves, employers can differentiate themselves and help support their workers by extending the minimum benefit and offering paid caregiving leave in states that do not mandate paid leave or to supplement state paid leave benefits. According to the recent caregiving survey, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of employed caregivers have had to miss at least one day of work in the last 12 months because of needing to care for dependents. In fact, the median number of days employees have missed work in the last 12 months due to caregiving is four, or nearly one full work week. A dedicated caregiving leave program sends a signal to an organization that not only is flexibility and time off imperative to recharge and reset, so is having the appropriate time to take care of family caregiving needs.

With so many employees having these important responsibilities, it should be on the minds of employers how to best support workers in order to foster better engagement and productivity, as well as loyalty. Thriving, happy employees are better employees — they are more engaged in their work, are more loyal to their employers, and more meaningfully contribute to their organizations’ goals. Ninety percent of happy employees say they are loyal to their employer, according to additional research found in MetLife’s 2019 U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS).


2. Promote Organization’s Flexibility Solutions – But Set Appropriate Boundaries

Workplaces have become increasingly flexible over the last several decades. With employers offering remote work options, flexible work schedules, and even unlimited paid time off, employees have sought to make work work for them as best as possible. In fact, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of employees say that their employer provides the flexibility they need to manage both work and life.

However, while there are many benefits to having more flexibility around work, it can present challenging realities as well. It can make it difficult to determine when to turn work off.

The ability to be “always on” can lead to blurred boundaries and burnout. According to the EBTS research, burnout is the number one concern for employers, while productivity is their top challenge.

Caregivers rarely have an opportunity between their work and care responsibilities to take a moment for themselves to reset, so employers should ensure there are established and communicated boundaries for work. Examples some employers use are instating email blackout hours during nights and weekends, or encouraging a minimum time-off policy so employees have an opportunity to utilize paid vacation time.


3. Leverage Existing Benefit Options … and Consider New Ones

Flexibility is not the only thing employers can or should do for the caregiving population in their workforces. Benefits also play a key role in providing the necessary financial support to caregivers, and the right combination of benefits and experiences can help employees feel more engaged and more cared for — and build the trust that enables them to thrive.

According to the EBTS research, five in 10 employees say better benefits are key to thriving. Should a caregiver get sick or injured, and unable to work, they could be strained financially to support their dependents and might utilize savings otherwise allocated to cover medical or other associated costs.

Caregivers who are full-time workers can feel like they are truly always working between their professional and personal responsibilities. Employers have an opportunity to differentiate themselves, as well as drive engagement and loyalty among employees by acknowledging the many roles their workers play in and out of the office and ensuring they foster a supportive environment.


Related blog articles:

https://blog.disabilitycanhappen.org/how-employers-can-support-caregivers-2/

https://blog.disabilitycanhappen.org/the-benefits-that-matter-to-working-caregivers/

https://blog.disabilitycanhappen.org/resources-support-and-practical-help-for-caregivers/