Personal Disability Insurance in America
Disability insurance helps protect you from an interruption of your income due to an accident or medical emergency. Naturally, no one expects an accident to take them out of commission, even for a short time. But a good disability policy provides protection just in case.
This section provides what you’ll need to know to protect you, from the basics of coverage to filing a claim.
What is disability insurance?
Disability insurance pays benefits when you are unable to earn a living because you are sick or injured. Like all insurance, disability insurance is designed to protect you against financial disaster. Most disability policies pay you a benefit that replaces part of your earned income (usually 50 to 70 percent) when you can’t work.
Why would you need disability insurance?
Your chances of being disabled for longer than three months are much greater than your chances of dying prematurely. One reason for this is that medicine has made many illnesses and injuries treatable and life sustaining which previously had life ending consequences. Although this is great news for us all, it increases your need to protect your income with disability insurance.
While you are working
Everyone who works and earns a living should consider purchasing disability insurance. What would happen if you suffered an injury or illness, and couldn’t work for days, months, or even years? If you’re single, you may have no other means of support. If you’re married, you may be able to rely on your spouse for income, but you probably also have many financial obligations, such as supporting your children and paying your mortgage. Could your spouse’s income support your whole family? In addition, remember that you don’t have to be working in a hazardous position to need disability insurance. Accidents happen not only on the job but also at home, and illness can strike anyone.
If you’re a business owner
If you own a business, disability insurance can protect you in several ways. First, you can purchase an individual policy that will protect your own income. You can also purchase key person insurance designed to protect you from the impact that losing an important employee would have on your business. Business overhead expense insurance ensures that if you get sick, your business will stay healthy. Finally, you can purchase a disability insurance policy that will enable you to buy your partner’s business interest in the event that he or she becomes disabled.
What do you need to know about disability insurance?
Once you become disabled and apply for benefits, you have to wait for a certain amount of time after the onset of your disability before you receive benefits. If you are applying for benefits under a private insurance policy, this amount of time (called the elimination period) ranges from 30 to 720 days, although the most common period is 90 days. If you are applying for benefits under a type of social insurance, your waiting period may be as long as five months (for Social Security).
You can purchase private disability insurance policies that guarantee lifetime coverage, but they are very expensive. Most people buy either short-term policies (benefits are paid for up to two years) or long-term policies (benefits are paid for a few years or up until age 65). In fact, many injuries or illnesses do not disable you permanently. After a rehabilitation period, you may be able to return to work full- or part-time. Most private and social insurance programs encourage you to go back to work either by paying you partial or full benefits while you try to work or by continually reevaluating your disability. In addition, they usually pay for any training or rehabilitation you might need to help you get back to work.
Both private and government disability insurance are complex because the needs of each individual are complex. In addition, injury or illness is unpredictable. As a result, private and government disability insurance programs are designed with many restrictions and–in the case of individual disability insurance, at least–many options. When you purchase a disability policy, you may have to spend a lot of time evaluating your future needs and weighing what coverage you can afford to buy against what coverage you’d like to have. Then, you’ll have to compare individual policies and determine what coverage you are already entitled to through your employer or through the government.
Where can you get disability insurance?
In general, disability insurance can be split into two types: private insurance (individual or group policies purchased from an insurance company), and government insurance (social insurance provided through state or federal governments).
Private disability insurance refers to disability insurance that you purchase through an insurance company. Many types of private disability insurance exist, including individual policies, group policies, group association policies, specialized group policies, and riders attached to life insurance policies. Depending on the type of policy chosen, private disability policies usually offer more comprehensive benefits to insured individuals than social insurance. Individually-owned policies may offer the most coverage (at a greater cost), followed by group policies offered by an employer or association.
Workers’ compensation and Social Security are two well-known government disability insurance programs. In addition, five states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) have mandatory disability insurance programs that provide disability benefits to residents. If you are a civil service worker, a military service member, or other federal, state, or local government employee, there are many disability programs set up to benefit you. In general, however, government disability insurance programs are designed to provide limited benefits under restrictive terms, and you should not rely upon them (as many people mistakenly do) as your main source of income if you are disabled.
Although government disability insurance programs are generally inflexible because they are designed to meet the needs of the masses, private individual policies can be tailored to meet your needs.