COVID-19 May Mean Big Changes for LTD

The recession may bring changes to the long-term disability industry that require strategic agility during evolving economic conditions.

Twenty-six million Americans are out of work, among them a large share of people who can no longer afford to put off applying for disability insurance. Where previously they may have been able to continue working for an accommodating employer or solely rely on their spouse’s income, today, there’s a good chance that’s not so. 

We have seen this happen with disability insurance in just about every recession in our nation’s history, so this shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. However, this downturn isn’t like most. Caused by a global health crisis, the current decline may bring additional changes to the long-term disability (LTD) industry that require strategic alternatives during an evolving economic environment. 

Consider all the cancer screenings that are on hold for two to three months or more. With progressive diseases or conditions like cancer, early detection is key. So, with these nonessential but still incredibly important appointments getting delayed, this means that, when forms of cancer are eventually detected, many could be in advanced stages with limited treatment options. 

This pandemic might also influence people’s thinking about both short-term and long-term disability insurance, including the possibility of more unexpected diseases like COVID-19. Reporting about the current pandemic already refer to prior outbreaks, such as SARS, MERS and the swine flu. These illnesses have been flagged by some researchers as more likely over the coming decades due to climate and environmental changes. As a result, employers and their employees might see even more value in disability protection.

See also: The Messaging Battle on COVID-19: Are Insurers Losing?  

Not only are LTD carriers in a position to see claims rise, they’re also in a position to see an uptick in business inquiries. This can be a positive, but things could quickly get out of control without the right insights and support. According to recent analysis by the Integrated Benefits Institute, costs for sick leave related to COVID-19 may be in the range of $6.1 billion to $23 billion in 2020, and short-term disability claims could go into the millions of workers affected.

To ensure success, LTD carriers are going to have to pay close attention to how much money is being paid in disability claims versus the rate of purchase by employers and their workers; the latter ideally outweighing the former. Third-party service providers may be able to help identify new developments. It can be hard to see emerging trends when you’re in the middle of them. Independent resources may have access and information to spot potentially significant marketplace trends— like COVID-19 survivors reporting long-term health issues—in their early days. 

Early analysis by medical professionals is finding multiple potential long-term health effects from the coronavirus, including conditions that fall under categories of long-term disability such as stroke among individuals under 50, long-lasting lung damage and damage to the heart, kidneys and brain. Research and medical studies are continuously advancing as the virus spreads. 

These developments signal the value and importance of accessing existing benefits such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which covers more than 156 million U.S. workers. As more people experience COVID-19, LTD carriers can benefit by partnering with third-party providers capable of monitoring and assessing emerging health impacts. An added benefit is that these providers can help LTD carriers reduce spending by coordinating and assisting former workers to access the SSDI benefits they earned while working.

The LTD industry has long looked to third-party organizations to help them determine if a beneficiary is eligible for SSDI benefits. Steps include walking individuals through the application process and doing everything possible to make sure that person is approved for disability benefits as soon as possible. 

See also: 3 Tips for Improving Customer Loyalty  

This is important because almost two-thirds of SSDI applicants are initially denied during the application process, which lasts three to five months. If a claimant files an appeal, the reconsideration level of review by the Social Security Administration requires an additional four to six months, and only one in 10 claimants will be approved. With a second denial, claimants must file another appeal to the hearing level. This appeal may require another 12 to 24 months—up to two whole years—before an applicant receives a hearing with an administrative law judge, and less than half of these individuals are approved nationwide. 

During this time, LTD carriers can be paying the individual’s disability benefits and providing an important financial backstop for American workers. That reality is significant when coupled with the current environment as the LTD industry enters unprecedented times, and raises the opportunity for LTD carriers to explore and expand their alternatives with third-party service providers. If we’ve learned anything from this crisis, it’s that we’re stronger when we work together.

Steve Perrigo

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Steve Perrigo

Steve Perrigo, J.D., is a vice president for Allsup, where he helps clients understand their options when coordinating private disability and health insurance benefits with the Social Security and Medicare programs.

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