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!
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.
How to Create a Culture of Learning at Your Workplace
How to Create a Culture of Learning at Your Workplace
More than ever, today’s employees crave professional growth. In fact, the members of the graduating class of 2019 rank it as a top priority in deciding whether they will accept a job. Creating a culture of learning can help keep employees satisfied even once they’re hired. An O.C. Tanner Report revealed that when millennials jump ship, it’s most often because they feel underutilized and stagnant at work. While professional development is of great benefit to your employees, it might be the perk that offers you the biggest bang for your buck. This is because it also benefits your organization through the new skills team members acquire. The great news is that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
Below we provide some tips to help you add low-cost but effective training to your benefits menu:
Help Create Individual Plans The best way to show employees that their professional growth is important to your company is to talk to them about what they need or want. Someone aiming to do more client-focused work might need pointers on how to lead effective sales presentations. An accounting professional might want to learn more about new technological advances that can streamline their workflow. Finding out what’s important to each of your team members and communicating ways to access that training ensures that the subsequent professional development you offer aligns with their needs and interests.
Look Into Online Training Taking a class is great, but taking one online on your employee’s own time can be even more appealing (and more realistic) for many. There are a number of free or cost-effective courses available through services like Lynda/LinkedIn Learning and Udemy, as well as “massive open online courses” (MOOCs), that you can encourage employees to check out. To expand the knowledge to the entire team, implement a “lunch and learn” where attendees share with others.
Pay for Membership in Professional Associations Check out this link of professional associations to find something that will apply to your business. Whether it’s a national agency or local group, there are often a wide variety of development opportunities available with membership fees. There are networking events, speaker forums, and conferences. As a member, your employees get special access to proprietary events and educational materials.
Offer Cross-Training Don’t let your employees become bored on the job. Find out what skills they might want to hone and search for opportunities to let them practice them. Whether it’s on a company-wide task force or by doing an inter-departmental rotation, it will keep your employees engaged with a new challenge. Ultimately, it allows your company to operate more smoothly as your team better understands various roles.
Try a Reverse Mentoring Program Most companies are familiar with traditional mentoring programs. Arranging a “reverse” mentoring program creates a new and useful spin on the relationship between a new or younger hire with one that is seasoned. The win-win really happens! Newer employees will increase their institutional knowledge and proficiencies. Older generations can keep their skills current in a rapidly changing work world, as “digital natives” help them navigate project management software or various apps that can streamline their workflow.
Promote Individual Learning Every employee should value keeping their skills and industry knowledge relevant. In fact, you could encourage or incentivize team members to choose pertinent podcast series or books. You could then have them share what they’ve learned with the team. To underscore your support of these activities, consider offering a few hours a month that employees can devote to professional development on company time.
Follow Through Finally, ensure that employees are making the most of any learning opportunities by following up to find out what they learned that can be valuable for others. For example, a conference they might attend could be beneficial to another employee the following year. Perhaps they found an online training course that was especially helpful. Finding out what individual employees learned from various opportunities allows you to build a library of resources that can benefit future employees, not just the current ones.
How to Reduce Employee Financial Stress for a Healthier Workforce… and Bottom Line
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:
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
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:
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.
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.2Employers 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.
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. Those who’ve had a disability leave report emergency savings of just $2,500.
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.
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.
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:
Podcast: What Every Employer Should Know About Social Security Disability Insurance
Carol Harnett: [00:00:00] Hello, this is Carol Harnett. I’m the president of The Council for Disability Awareness. Welcome to our podcast, which is called The Financial Health and Income Network. Today we are going to talk specifically to employers about how Social Security Disability Insurance works and how it can help protect employees who can no longer work due to an illness or an injury.
In addition to that, about half of Americans have some form of disability coverage, most of which makes up the difference. It is either a group policy that the employee pays all of the premium for instead of getting assistance from their employer, or they may be doing something called an individual disability insurance policy that they secure working directly with an agent or an advisor and an individual disability carrier.
Today we are going to focus on this very specific type of coverage that is provided by the federal government but has a very well-defined process, including a very well-defined approval process, application process, and review process. This is Social Security Disability Insurance.
You can hear the full podcast or if you’d rather read than listen, we captured the transcript from the conversation below.
Introducing Ted Norwood from IBI, Inc.
I’m really pleased to have a subject matter expert with us on the show today. My guest is Ted Norwood. He’s the general counsel and director of representation at Integrated Benefits, Inc. We are very pleased that IBI, which is their acronym, is a member of The Council for Disability Awareness and supports us. So we thank them for that. Welcome Ted. We’re so pleased to have you here with us today.
Ted Norwood: [00:02:21] Thanks Carol. It is a pleasure to be here. I’m really excited to let people know about how all this works because it is a frequently misunderstood system.
Carol Harnett: [00:02:36] If you don’t mind, I’m going to kick you off in the most basic of all things, which is: we assume that everybody understands what SSDI is, and with them we use the acronym all the time, and A, nobody even understands what the acronym means and B, really doesn’t understand what the coverage is. Can you go right to the basics and ground our employer listeners in that?
What is SSDI?
Ted Norwood: [00:03:08] Sure. SSDI– commonly just referred to as Social Security Disability– is a disability program through the federal government’s social security system that you pay into from your paycheck through your taxes.
It covers anyone that pays in. It doesn’t cover lots of federal employees, people that don’t pay those taxes. For instance, lots of teachers aren’t covered– they’re covered by different things. Railroad workers are covered by a separate policy, but they must pay in, and that differentiates it from the other social security disability program that people often combine with it or get confused by, which is SSI, or supplemental security income. This is a disability program for people that don’t have the work history or haven’t paid in. It’s a much smaller benefit.
SSDI is a better benefit; it’s a pretty strong benefit with an average payout of $1,600 a month. After being disabled for twenty-nine months, you become Medicare-eligible, and it will last until Social Security finds that you are no longer disabled or until you hit full retirement age. And they do reviews every two to five years of your case to see if you’re still disabled.
Although social security policy can bore some people– the big takeaway is that Social Security Disability is designed to work with long term disability to provide the best policies. A combination is the most important thing.
Carol Harnett: [00:05:08] That’s really well said and it’s a great basic summary. One thing I’d like to ask is– and I think some of our listeners are not familiar with — is I’ve often heard that you have to pay quote-unquote a certain amount of quarters into Social Security before you would become eligible for SSDI. What does that mean when people say that?
What is Elligibility for SSDI?
Ted Norwood: [00:05:35] It means you have to work a certain amount. You know, if you just go out and get a job and then claim disability right away, you haven’t really paid in enough to qualify. The rule is about 40 quarters, which is about 10 years of work. If you’re younger than that, there are formulas for adjusting that. When people are applying for Social Security disability, they usually have a significant amount of work history, and if they don’t have the work history, then they have to apply for the SSI. So most of your applicants are people that have a strong work record, but they’re not able to do the job that they’ve been doing anymore.
Carol Harnett: [00:06:32] Those are good points. When you say a strong work record, is that a nice way of saying that these are people who are older, who have worked for a period of time? If so, do you happen to know what the average age might be for a typical applicant?
Ted Norwood: [00:06:51] Uh-oh, I think I’m busted here because I don’t know what the average age of the typical applicant would be, but I would say it would skew older. Young people are covered. If you’re working at a salary job, odds are you’re probably covered if you’re going through, or if you have a steady job, or even steady seasonal work, but the average applicant is older. That’s probably mostly a factor of the wear and tear that goes on to your body after years of working. You know in your 20s and 30s you’re going to be stronger and more flexible, with better recovery and stuff, and less likely to have those over time injuries. So I would say that average applicant is probably around 50 if I had to guess.
Carol Harnett: [00:07:52] Okay, that seems fair. When I think about what I know about long term disability claims, we do know when people are younger that is often when we’ll see more accident related reasons for being out of work, while illness is usually the major reason why people are out on long term disability. Accidents will play a larger role the younger you are and then the older you are obviously illness tends to play the biggest role.
Now you just made a point that I think is really important for employers to understand, which is a big differentiator between long term disability insurance and SSDI, and that is this idea of what type of work are you disabled from? Are you disabled from your ability to do your own occupation, or your own job, or are you disabled from being able to do any kind of work? And can you shed some light for listeners on the requirements around your inability to work when you apply for SSDI?
Clarify the Inability to Work
Ted Norwood: [00:09:05] Absolutely. This is a critical difference between the private disability and this public disability. When people think that they’re disabled, and they can’t work as an engineer anymore, or they can’t work in their factory anymore, or as a teacher, they think: well, “I’m disabled.” If you have a private policy, then that’ll mean you will be disabled, probably for a couple of years at least.
Social Security is different. Social Security I call a “catastrophic” disability policy– that’s an unofficial term– but it only covers you if you’re disabled from any work. The language of the Act says from being able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers. Once upon a time they liberally interpreted that and they’d cut you some slack, but over the last 15 or more years, they’ve really cracked down, and when they say significant numbers, I mean almost any job.
So, if you are, let’s say you’re 49 and and you had a really good job at a Ford plant, and you have some back problems. Maybe you had some cancer, something going on, something severe, you no longer can do that job. But if Social Security thinks that you can be a ticket taker at the movie theater on a full-time basis– which I don’t even know what movie theaters employ those people– they’re going to deny your case. They use a lot of outdated information, which isn’t necessarily their fault, but it’s difficult and they’re very tough.
An important thing to understand is that if you’re relying on Social Security, you have to be really, really limited. If you can’t do hard physical work, but you could do a sit-down job, there’s a really good chance you won’t get your Social Security. The terrible thing about that is that if you’re used to doing hard work, and then you want to transition to a sit-down job, it might be really hard, especially if you’re older, to transition to that. So you end up in this gap where Social Security says, “you’re not disabled, you’re capable of performing some jobs. You’re just unemployed.” Meanwhile, unemployment says yeah, you’re unemployed; but you know, our insurance only lasts for so long, and it’s really tough for people to find the resources to be able to make those transitions and get those jobs.
Job Function Differentiation
Carol Harnett: [00:12:00] That’s a really fair point. In long term disability insurance– provided, both by an employer and bought individually by the consumer, does somebody quote-unquote meet the definition of disability? We don’t expect someone who’s done a job like a physician, for example, or a senior executive in a company, to do a job that goes outside of their knowledge, skills, and abilities. We don’t expect them to be that ticket taker at a movie theater. It’s a much closer alliance to work, that either is exactly like what they used to do, or similar to what they used to do, using transferable skills.
Sometimes, a surgeon may no longer be able to do surgery because she has a hand tremor, but she could do medical reviews for an insurance company. She could also see patients and screen them for whether they’re a candidate for surgery. That is big difference between a private disability insurance policy and a public one like SSDI, is that correct?
Accommodations for Work: Private vs. SSDI
Ted Norwood: [00:13:28] Yes, and I would add that lots of private policies that I’ve seen factor in income. For instance, you are a successful surgeon who develops a hand tremor. Although you might make several hundred thousand dollars a year, you will go to an insurance review physician position, and you are probably not going to come close to that salary.
The policies on the private side will lots of times accommodate that. They might say: “Hey, this is an offset– because you’re capable of doing this or we expect you to try to find this,” but they make up the difference. Social Security says that if you have a really solid job making $60,000 a year, but they think that you might still be able to do this job, which is minimum wage, they expect you to go do it.
Carol Harnett: [00:14:34] Yes, I think that’s that is probably not on their radar.
Ted Norwood: [00:14:42] No. When I’ve talked to employers and when I talk to claimants and people in general, they really don’t know anything about it, I always tell them that that’s fine. Hopefully you don’t have to really ever know about the details of Social Security Disability. You find if you have to go through it, that’s really unfortunate, but once you become an employer, and you’re making decisions about whether or not to offer policies to your employees, it’s then it becomes important to understand what they’re really facing. If you think that someone will, they can just get on Social Security, you know, if they can’t work here– that’s not as easy as it may sound. Unfortunately. I wish it were.
Carol Harnett: [00:15:36] You mentioned an average benefit, but because we’re talking about the monetary side of Social Security now, can you help listeners understand the range of payments? And can you also clarify, is there a cap or a maximum that somebody might receive on Social Security Disability?
Ted Norwood: [00:16:02] Well sure. Once you go on Social Security Disability, your payment depends on your work history and your payment history. When I say your work history, that means what you’ve paid in. You don’t pay into Social Security if you make over a certain salary or income per year; you only pay up to a cap. The max benefit, what does it end up being? I think I want to say it’s about three thousand dollars, and it can go up if you have dependents because it gives you extra benefits if you have minor dependents during the same time you’re out. But you know, you can’t replace a large salary just on Social Security disability.
Carol Harnett: [00:17:00] And if there were a minimum payment?
Ted Norwood: [00:17:05] Well, the minimum payment would be about eight hundred dollars. The SSI benefit, which varies– and that’s for people that don’t have any SSDI coverage at all– usually is somewhere between five and eight hundred depending on all the factors that go into that. So SSDI is always going to be better than that.
And I say “always.” You know, whenever as a lawyer I say “always” that really just means “almost always.” Sure enough, some lawyer’s listening saying “no, that’s not true; here is the example where it’s different.” And yes, but speaking generally, for someone to take away,I would say, $800, but that’s very low.
Carol Harnett: [00:17:56] It’s not a lot of money; this is a monthly payment, just to clarify for our listeners.
Ted Norwood: [00:18:03] Yes. It’s a monthly payment.
One of the things I should mention — talking about lawyers– another difference between private insurance and Social Security is you almost need to have a lawyer to get on Social Security [Disability]. If you have a terminal illness, you probably don’t, but you’re taking a risk doing it yourself. To use the Social Security’s Disability program, it’s strongly encouraged that you use an attorney– even by Social Security.
Private insurance, you don’t need an attorney to get on. Sometimes there are disputes between insurers and claimants, and you might need a specific type of attorney when that comes up. But for the most part, you don’t get an attorney to activate your private disability policy; that’s a big advantage, too.
Carol Harnett: [00:19:04] Yes. You’re leading right into the next question, which is: What is the process? How do you apply and when do you apply for Social Security disability? How does the process work and how quickly might you receive a decision?
The Application Process
Ted Norwood: [00:19:22] Social Security only covers disabilities that arise from a medically identified problem that will last for 12 months or more.
If you break both your legs, but you’re probably going to be better in six to eight months, then you won’t qualify. If there are complications with that and it ends up taking 12 months before you can go back to work, then you could qualify. However, Social Security’s going to look at that very suspiciously.
Once you are out, or once you know you’re probably going to be out for a year and facing a kind of a grim diagnosis — there’s a lot of really grim stuff we deal with in disability, obviously– then you should apply. Once you’re sure you’re not going to be able to do this for a long time, then you want to apply.
You can file online. Everyone should be online creating their My SSA Account, even if they’re not about to apply. It’s good that Social Security’s trying to expand their online presence and getting that set up helps them out. You can go online and apply. You can also go up to your district office; the same place where you get your Social Security card, and file an application. Social Security will take it, make sure you have coverage for SSDI. Then, they send it out to the state agency, which is a federally-funded state agency.
They will evaluate you. The first step takes somewhere between two and six months, and this depends on how quickly they get your doctor’s records, how backed up they are, how difficult your case is, and if they have to send you to an exam.
After the initial evaluation, there’s about a 35% chance of being awarded– which means a 65% chance of being denied. The next step is to then file a reconsideration, which is just a review by that same state agency. There are certain regions in the country currently where you don’t have to file for reconsideration, but Social Security just changed that and they’re moving to everyone going back to reconsideration.
Annual Chart for SSDI’s Overall Award/Denials at Each Level
Reconsideration. It’s the exact same process again, but they have someone else at the agency look at it. Obviously since it’s the same agency, they’re not going to have the same award rate of their own denial, so it’s about a 15% chance they’ll pay that case. So an 85% chance you’re going to be denied.
Now you are 6 to 12 months into your application and you still don’t have benefits. Now you request a hearing with an administrative law judge. Your case gets back to the federal Social Security program. They’ll assign your case to a hearing office, which is different than your district office, and there’s a long wait for that. It’s somewhere between 12 and 20 months. Depending on where you are, there are a few offices that are under 12 months, and there are some offices that are getting close to 30 months of waiting time.
Building a Case
Now you wait and you build your case. Hopefully you keep going to the doctor. You don’t get any benefits, or any insurance, and you wait until you get in front of a judge. You explain your case to the judge, and you’ll give him all of you medical records that you can get a hold of, and he’ll make a decision. Hopefully you have a good attorney.
At that point you have about a 45 percent chance to be awarded. If you’re denied by an ALJ you do have an appeal within Social Security to their Appeals Council. It’s another year usually and they don’t send many cases back because they’re really trying to not add to that backlog they already have and they basically dare you to take your case to Federal Court.
Appeals in Federal Court
If you talk to your attorney and they want to take your case to Federal Court, you can do that. The courts love this because courts are ALWAYS looking to have lots of cases– that’s a lawyer joke! Social Security floods the courts with these cases. At that point, your case is no longer actually in the agency, it’s in federal court, and you’re actually suing Social Security and saying, “hey, you guys didn’t follow your own rules, and you wrongfully denied my disability.”
The odss are 50/50 in the federal courts, but it’s important to remember that most attorneys will only take very strong cases to federal court. It’s a really long, difficult process and you can’t just take your chances up there. You’ve got to have a really good case now. I will say this: most attorneys only take really good cases to begin with.
One thing that’s important is there’s a myth of disability fraud, It doesn’t really exist, because you have to work so long to get coverage to even qualify. If you haven’t worked enough, your scam isn’t going to work, because you just can’t get benefits. You get awarded, only after a long, difficult process. That is, if you work long enough to qualify. You go two years without income, and then all you get is $1,800 a month, which is certainly less than you were making before. So it’s a really, really bad scam. But people continue to think there’s a lot of fraud, when most of the rot is actually on the inside.
Carol Harnett: [00:26:00] I would ask a clarifying question: you’ve mentioned having an attorney help you with your case. Is there a charge for people when they have an attorney help?
Associated Attorney Fees
Ted Norwood: [00:26:11] Social Security has really set some strict rules on on fees, and your fee always has to be approved by Social Security. You cannot charge a fee up front. All fees are– if the claimant is paying it– your fee has to be contingent, and the max you can get is 25 percent. If you use Social Security’s fee agreement, the cap is $6,000. An attorney can charge their fees and expenses to a claimant. Most do, but some don’t though, and some attorneys will ask for money up front to hold to cover expenses and stuff, but most don’t. It’s pretty much free for you to get the attorney to do their work, but they’ll only take your case if they think they can win. If they don’t think you have a case then it’s not a sound business decision for them.
Carol Harnett: [00:27:08] Great. Well, I can’t believe how fast this time is going. We have a little less than three minutes.
Ted Norwood: [00:27:14] I saw that.
Carol Harnett: [00:27:16] I had to look at my list of questions and I think the best one to choose at this point is: in your experience what final closing words of advice would you give to employers when you think about disability in general and Social Security disability insurance on top of that?
Final Word to Employers
Ted Norwood: [00:27:35] Group private disability insurance is a pretty affordable benefit, and it is a lifesaver for your employees if they go out of work. Fighting with Social Security is so hard. Everyone we represent that has LTD says, “that $10 a month was the best decision I ever made.” They get their benefits quicker. They still have to go through the Social Security process, because there’s an offset to that LTD, but they have money, they’re getting something. They’re not scrambling.
Social Security– if you have to wait for Social Security, it doesn’t just decimate your spirit and your income; it decimates your insurance coverage; your ability to pay for the doctors, who eventually stop seeing you. It ruins marriages and relationships and strains your family because people lose their houses. And it is long and difficult and tragic. It’s so affordable and such a good benefit to give to your employees. When they go out sick, or they get cancer, they wear down– and they’re better-taken care of. I believe in it, and it was not even on my radar when I came out of law school; I hope employers at least look into it.
Carol Harnett: [00:29:08] Well said. I’ve known a gentleman by the name of Dick Mucci who currently runs the group insurance operation at Lincoln Financial. He has worked in and around individual disability and group disability, the private industry, his whole career. He has always said he couldn’t imagine why employers wouldn’t provide long-term disability coverage. It’s difficult for an employer to lay someone off after three or six months and leave them without some form of an income to help them get through long term disability.
So with that, Ted, I’m going to say, thank you so much for the information you shared. It’s been a privilege to have you on this show.
Ted Norwood: [00:29:54] Thanks for having me; I appreciate it. Good luck, everyone.
Carol Harnett: [00:29:57] Thank you, everyone. Bye-bye.
Click below for more articles from Ted Norwood about Social Security Disability Insurance.
Mothers or Caregivers – Ways Employers Can Support Them
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.
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.
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
employers enable them to manage life in and outside of work are more loyal and
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
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.
Whether working in healthcare, for an insurance company, consulting with employers or running a nonprofit, the basic and vexing problem I’m trying to solve is behavior change and how, ultimately, human beings evaluate and respond to risk.
The longer I work in and around employee benefits, the more I’ve come to appreciate that there are enormous advantages to health- and financial-benefit programs that either a nation or an employer selected and paid for.
Unfortunately, most adults evaluate hazards differently than risk-considering people like me, HR executives or actuaries.
To the experts, risk means expected annual mortality [or financial ruin]. But to the public (and even the experts when they go home at night), risk means much more than that. Let’s redefine terms. Call the death rate (what [many] experts mean by risk) “hazard.” Call all the other factors, collectively, “outrage.” Risk, then, is the sum of hazard and outrage. The public pays too little attention to hazard; the experts pay absolutely no attention to outrage. Not surprisingly, they rank risks differently.
Peter Sandman, Risk Communications Consultant
During and following World War II, when most developed nations chose to provide its residents with healthcare and financial benefits, they unconsciously acknowledged our frailty as humans in evaluating risk.
Rights to Protection
On Jan. 11, 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt attempted to persuade Congress and the nation of the value of a “second bill of rights” (also known as an economic bill of rights) during his State of the Union address. Included on the list were the right to adequate medical care—and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health—and the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment. Several of FDR’s rights were addressed in programs such as Social Security. But employers continued to bear some of the onus they picked up during World War II by not abandoning employee benefits such as healthcare coverage.
A Shift in the Industry
As employee-benefits costs—led by healthcare expenses and poor pension investments—began to incur precipitous financial consequences for businesses during the 20th century, employers began the shift to cost-sharing with employees. (It’s a trend that continues today.) The advent of this change, coupled with the rise of cafeteria plans, put workers in the risk-assessment driver’s seat. They often made selections that make me shudder.
For non-elderly Americans with health insurance, the analysis found, hospital admissions increased out-of-pocket medical spending, unpaid medical bills and bankruptcy, and reduced earnings, income, access to credit and consumer borrowing.
Most importantly, the earnings decline is substantial compared to the out-of-pocket healthcare spending increase, and is minimally insured prior to age-eligibility for Social Security Retirement Income—meaning that at least a third of working adults have no private disability insurance.
Employees who are hospitalized on average experience an $11,000 decrease in earnings per year by the third year after they were hospitalized and it does not go up. More importantly, 60 percent of people experiencing an earnings decrease never returned to work. This is compared with out-of-pocket spending where people with health insurance paid $300 and people without insurance paid $6,000.
“I’ve spent all but two years of my career working in disability insurance. I’ve never understood how an employer can in good conscience terminate an employee who cannot return to work due to an illness or injury without having long-term disability coverage in place for them.”
Dick Mucci, president of the Group Protection Business at Lincoln Financial Group
Disability Insurance Awareness
Given we are the start of May which is Disability Insurance Awareness Month, I’d like to think how we can effectively get employers to offer—if not pay all or part of the costs of—short- and long-term disability insurance.
To read Carol’s complete article at HR Executive, please click here.
Earth Day | What Does It Mean to Go Green?
‘Going Green’ means to live life, as an individual as well as a community, in a way that is friendly to the natural environment and is sustainable for the earth, and Earth Day is the annual day of awareness that celebrates the green lifestyle.
It is an opportunity for individuals and communities to come together to adopt new behaviors and share knowledge and practices that can lead to more environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible decisions and lifestyles. As a result, Earth Day reminds us that small changes in how we live our daily lives today can help protect the environment and sustain its natural resources for future generations.
In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. – Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy
To meet today’s environmental challenges, it’s important for everyone to consider the effects of their actions at home and in the workplace. Here are a few tips and resources for environmental stewardship provided by experts at the World Watch Institute:
Recycling programs exist in cities and towns across the United States, and as a result, helps save energy and protect the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for each pound of aluminum recovered, Americans save the energy resources necessary to generate roughly 7.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is enough to power a city the size of Pittsburgh for six years!
What you can do:
Put a separate container next to your trash can or printer, making it easier to recycle your bottles, cans, and paper.
Turn Off the Lights
On the last Saturday in March hundreds of people, businesses, and governments around the world turn off their lights for an hour as part of Earth Hour, a movement to address climate change.
What you can do:
Although Earth Hour happens once a year, you can make an impact every day by turning off lights during bright daylight, or whenever you will be away for an extended period of time.
Make the Switch
Compared to traditional incandescents, energy-efficient lightbulbs such as halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and light emitting diodes (LEDs) have the following advantages:
Typically use about 25%-80% less energy than traditional incandescents, saving you money
Can last 3-25 times longer.
What you can do:
Plan to switch out your traditional incandescents with energy saving bulbs the next time your old bulbs die out.
Turn ON the Tap
It is known that plastic water bottles create huge environmental problems, and therefore the energy required to transport these bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year. The kicker here? About 75 percent of water bottles are not recycled, rather, they end up in landfills, litter roadsides, and pollute waterways and oceans.
What you can do:
Fill up your glasses and reusable water bottles with water from the sink. The United States has more than 160,000 public water systems, and by eliminating bottled water you can help to keep nearly 1 million tons of bottles out of the landfill, as well as save money on water costs.
Turn DOWN the Heat
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that consumers can save up to 15 percent on heating and cooling bills just by adjusting their thermostats. Turning down the heat by 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours can result in savings of 5–15 percent on your home heating bill.
What you can do:
Turn down your thermostat when you leave for work, or use a programmable thermostat to control your heating settings.
Support Food Recovery Programs
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), roughly a third of all food produced for human consumption—approximately 1.3 billion tons—gets lost or wasted, including 34 million tons in the United States annually.
What you can do:
Encourage your local restaurants and grocery stores to partner with food rescue organizations.
Go through your cabinets and shelves and donate any non-perishable canned and dried foods that you won’t be using to your nearest food bank or shelter.
Local and small businesses are more sustainable because they are often more accountable for their actions, have smaller environmental footprints, and innovate to meet local conditions—providing models for others to learn from.
What you can do:
Instead of relying exclusively on large supermarkets, consider farmers markets and local farms for your produce, eggs, dairy, and meat. Food from these sources is usually fresher and more flavorful, and your money will be going directly to these food producers.
Get Out and Ride
Carpooling and using public transportation helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as gas bills. Cities across the country are investing in new mobility options like bike sharing programs, and people are renting for short-term use. As a result, there’s been a significant reduction in emissions.
What you can do:
If available, use your city’s bike share program to run short errands or commute to work. Memberships are generally inexpensive (only $75 for the year in Washington, D.C.), and by eliminating transportation costs, as well as a gym membership, you can save quite a bit of money!
Even if without bike share programs, many cities and towns are incorporating bike lanes and trails, making it easier and safer to use your bike for transportation and recreation.
Share a Car
Car sharing programs spread from Europe to the United States nearly 13 years ago and are increasingly popular, with U.S. membership jumping 117 percent between 2007 and 2009. Consequently, in 2009 car-sharing was credited with reducing U.S. carbon emissions by more than 482,000 tons.
What you can do:
Join a car share program! As of July 2011, there were 26 such programs in the U.S., with more than 560,000 people sharing over 10,000 vehicles.
Of course, if you don’t want to get rid of your own car, using a shared car when traveling in a city can greatly reduce the challenges of finding parking (car share programs have their own designated spots), as well as your environmental impact as you run errands or commute to work.
Plant a Garden
Whether you live in a studio loft or a house in the suburbs, growing your own vegetables is a simple way to bring fresh and nutritious food literally to your doorstep with minimal impact.
What you can do:
Plant some lettuce in a window box. Lettuce seeds are cheap and easy to find, and when planted in full sun, one window box can provide enough to make several salads worth throughout a season.
What better way to fertilize a personal garden than using your own composted organic waste. Likely, you will not only reduce costs by buying less fertilizer, but you will also help to cut down on food and other organic waste.
Livestock production accounts for about 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 23 percent of all global water used in agriculture. You don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan, but by simply cutting down on the amount of meat you consume can go a long way.
What you can do:
Consider substituting one meal day with a vegetarian option. And if you are unable to think of how to substitute your meat-heavy diet, websites such as Meatless Monday and Eating Well offer numerous vegetarian recipes that are healthy for you and the environment.
Making small changes and adopting sustainable practices, for instance, ride sharing, buying local, turning off the lights, or recycling can make an enormous impact on the environment over the long term.
All In Together: Engaging Employees on Sustainability
Why is a Sustainable Workplace Important?
In a lifetime, it is said working Americans spend more time at their place of work than at their own homes, and over the years, this has put the onus on employers to create healthy and sustainable work environments, along with compiling competitive benefits to attract and retain workers. A healthy and sustainable work environment makes a long workday more enjoyable and correlates to happier, more engaged employees. Studies have shown this helps boost employee productivity and morale, and results in fewer work-related illnesses, injuries, and accidents. Ultimately it has a positive effect on a company’s bottom line.
Nearly 40% of millennials have chosen a job because of company sustainability. Less than a quarter of gen X respondents said the same, and 17% of baby boomers.
Swytch Survey: the result of conversations with 1,000 employees at large U.S. companies
With the rise of the millennial workforce and its demand for socially conscious workplaces, it is no wonder that employers are taking notice. While it might seem frivolous to some business owners, that fact is integrating social causes into business operations, like building a sustainable workplace, is a good investment for the future. And according to a January 2008 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 61% of employees were more likely to stay at a company because of the organization’s sustainability program. As a result, a sustainable workplace helps companies save thousands of dollars in hiring, training, compensation, benefits, etc.
Recycling as a Way to Begin
One common and low barrier to entry into the sustainable workplace movement is that of a recycling program. Because workers generate the most waste in an office environment, the sustainability effort starts with them. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the average workplace, about 80 – 90 percent of solid waste is actually recyclable. More and more businesses and employees are realizing the importance of recycling and the difference it can make.
Cost and Time Savings
Help with universal participation and compliance
Effective way to track overall green progress
Reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills
Reduces company’s carbon footprint
Builds Morale Among Staff
Before pushing a conservation program like recycling forward, it is vital for companies to keep track of the amount of waste that they produce every year. Above all, with this information, employers can make real sense of the meaningful impact it can have. While at first, it might seem like an insurmountable task, when broken down it really is manageable. Certainly, engaging employees in the form of Green Teams to help out can easily make a program up and running in a few weeks. There are many resources out there to help support these efforts, but here is a summary of an action plan to get you and your employees thinking and motivated to take the first step in a more sustainable workplace.
Make the Commitment
Assemble a (Green) Team
Conduct a (Waste) Audit
Develop a Plan
Make It Easy
Launch Your Program
Publicize Program Success
Purchase Recycled Content
Encourage and Engage Others
It’s easy to update your sustainability goals on your company website, but changes in the office can be difficult. Make sure to recognize your Green Team colleagues and reward positive change. A small present like a reusable water bottle, coffee cup or canvas bag could also help kickstart your efforts. When it comes to sustainability, leaders’ actions speak louder than words and play a vital role in reaffirming company values to employees.
“From my perspective, it’s a competitive advantage for large enterprises to really align themselves with employees’ ideas about creating more environmentally sustainable choices.”
Evan Caron, co-founder of Swytch, the blockchain-based clean energy platform