Four reasons disability insurance should be on every broker’s radar

Jeff Brunken

Originally published on

Although disability insurance is a benefit that is sometimes off the radar, it is ready to step into the spotlight in 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on the importance of disability insurance, an employee benefit that often flies under the radar.

The possibility of becoming disabled and unable to work is not top of mind for most people. They usually think of a disability as something resulting from an accident and believe “it won’t happen to me.” However, more people become disabled due to illness than to accidents. COVID-19 has brought attention to the fact that people can get sick and miss work for several weeks or months. If not protected by disability insurance, the lost income that results can take a toll on their lives in addition to the illness.

By the numbers

Key statistics from the Council for Disability Awareness tell the story:

  • More than 1 in 4 of today’s 20-year-olds can expect to be out of work for at least a year because of a disabling condition before they reach the normal retirement age.
  • At least 51 million working adults in the United States are without disability insurance other than the basic coverage available through Social Security.
  • 90% of disabilities are caused by illnesses rather than accidents
  • The top five reasons for long-term disability claims include musculoskeletal disorders; cancer; pregnancy; mental health issues, including depression and anxiety; and injuries such as fractures, sprains, and strains of muscles and ligaments.

Disability trends for 2021

As the importance of disability insurance reaches new levels of awareness among American workers, employers, and brokers and benefits advisers, here are four disability industry predictions for this year.

  1. Disability insurance will be an important part of the conversations brokers and benefits advisers have with their clients this year.

COVID-19 might have brought more attention to disability insurance, but the need for this benefit exists even when there is not a pandemic. As brokers discuss benefits with their clients this year, disability benefits will likely be a bigger part of the conversation. Brokers need to emphasize quality group disability plans early and often.

  1. More employers will add or update long-term disability benefits.

While most COVID-19 patients have been shown to suffer for just a few weeks, there are some who have become quite ill, spend weeks or months in the hospital, and suffer longer-term or lingering effects. These patients qualify for normal group LTD benefits after 90 or 180 days. Currently, no U.S. laws require employers to provide LTD coverage. Most employers do offer some short-term sick leave or disability policy, and about half of all companies offer long-term coverage. LTD coverage is an important employee benefit that will likely be emphasized more by brokers in 2021 due to the impacts of the pandemic in 2020.

  1. There will be more interest in LTD coverage for stress-related disabilities.

The pandemic has drawn attention to how LTD policies deal with stress-related disability, especially among doctors. Virtually all LTD policies limit the duration of nervous/mental claims, usually to a maximum of 24 months for the claimant’s lifetime. A more COVID-appropriate LTD policy would not use this “lifetime max.” To be most helpful to their doctor clients, brokers must understand the mental health problems or stress-induced diagnoses that various disability insurance carriers might cover.

  1. A priority for brokers with health care clients will be ensuring that their income- protecting disability policies are up to date.

Perhaps no one has felt more pandemic-related pressure than doctors. In addition to ensuring that doctor clients have adequate disability coverage for any type of stress or mental health claim related to COVID-19, brokers should make sure those policies provide “own occupation” coverage that pays benefits based on the CPT or CDT codes for the procedures they perform. Without this type of protection, doctors may be at risk for having their benefits denied or reduced at claim time.

The role of brokers and benefits advisers

This year will be a pivotal one for the disability insurance industry. Disability coverage shouldn’t be a “set it and forget it” matter. It’s always crucial to assess coverage periodically, but it’s even more important now that the pandemic has brought attention to the need to take another look at disability policies.

Related: Brokers’ critical role: health care professionals and disability insurance

Brokers and benefits advisers should make a point to review disability coverage with all of their clients this year. For brokers and benefits advisers with doctor clients, the pandemic has been a red flag to make sure those clients are armed with the right disability insurance options to provide the protection they really need. Once the pandemic slows, there will be increased focus on disability insurance and other high-quality benefits for doctors as a recruitment and retention strategy due to the ongoing doctor shortage.

Although disability insurance is a benefit that is sometimes off the radar, it is ready to step into the spotlight in 2021.

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