When someone is faced with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, they often wonder “do I need to go out on disability?” Unfortunately, they aren’t always sure what that actually means, or that it could mean multiple things.
The main confusion comes from not understanding the difference between disability leave and disability insurance.
Generally, the term “disability leave” is used to refer to time off from work, taken by an employee due to a serious illness or injury. However, it is important for individuals to understand how they are taking that leave. Employees may be able to take time off from work under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which is a federal law that provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, but job protected leave, per year. Some employees may also be able to get some time off as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is a federal law that provides protections for individuals with disabilities. Disability leave may also refer to time off from work because of an employee’s medical condition, which is allowed under a specific employer’s policy rather than required by law.
If an employee has to take some time off, or has determined they are unable to work at all, the next thing they have to understand, is how they might be able to replace their lost wages. That is where disability insurance comes into play. Disability insurance benefits can be purchased directly from a private insurance company, or can be offered by an employer, some state governments, or the federal government.
You may be able to purchase a private disability policy directly from an insurance company. Unfortunately, there are very few regulations around the sale of these policies, so companies are allowed to take into consideration pre-existing conditions and health status when determine whether to sell you a policy and what to charge. So, if you already have a pre-existing condition, it is difficult to get a private disability insurance plan. However, it doesn’t hurt to look into your options in your state. You can visit http://triagecancer.org/stateresources to find your state’s insurance agency, which should share information about which companies sell policies in your state.
Many employers also offer disability insurance as a benefit of employment. Employers may pay all or part of the premium. One example of an employer-sponsored disability insurance plan is Aflac, but there are many others. These group plans are guaranteed-issue, meaning that you cannot be denied, but you may face exclusions of coverage for pre-existing conditions. Contact your employer’s human resources representative or your employer’s insurance company for more information about your specific plan.
There are also a handful of states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico) that have state disability insurance programs. The details vary by state, but generally these programs are for short term disabilities (up to one year).
Finally, there are two federal disability insurance programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both programs are run by the Social Security Administration and are based on having a long term disability.
The bottom line, is instead of simply saying “I’m going out on disability,” it can help to be clear about if you mean disability leave or that you are receiving disability insurance benefits, or both!