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Long-Haul COVID-19 Cases and the Need for Long-Term Disability Coverage

Gaps and potential limitations may prevent Americans suffering from COVID-19-related issues in the long term from qualifying for income replacement while they address and recuperate.
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long-haul covid-19 cases and the need for long-term disability coverage

At this stage in the coronavirus pandemic, many people have had a firsthand COVID-19 experience—either through their own diagnosis or that of a relative. The general experience is similar: The quick onset of cold and flu-like symptoms, perhaps the loss of taste and smell, fatigue, and a relatively quick resolution.

While in more severe cases hospitalization is required for respiratory distress or complications associated with co-morbidities, most infected cases are asymptomatic by the time their quarantine has concluded.

Although many people's symptoms are resolved in a reasonably short time frame, many experience ongoing issues weeks and even months after their quarantine ended, including everything from continued loss of taste and smell to brain fog, dizziness or fatigue. Many also struggle with accompanying anxiety and depression.

In addition to these somewhat subjective symptoms and complaints, cases consistently present respiratory, cardiac, renal and even gastrointestinal issues. These long-haul COVID-19 cases are symptomatic six months to a year or more from initial diagnosis. As a result, a “tsunami of disability" is coming, according to a recent Scientific American article.

Prominent, world-class healthcare systems or facilities, including Boston Children's Hospital, The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles have established treatment and research facilities specifically dedicated to long-haul COVID-19.

The U.S. passed 46 million confirmed cases, of which approximately 13,099 have been deemed a severe condition. Approximately 1 in 4 of all American COVID-19 cases was identified as a long-hauler, according to a UC Davis Health study released in March.

For those 9 million Americans, the tricky part relates to disability income. Gaps and potential limitations may prevent these long-haulers from qualifying for income replacement while they address and recuperate.

Both the federal and state government income replacement efforts for COVID-19 disability have been primarily focused on a short-term timeframe. Traditional governmental programs intended to address long-term disabilities typically impose a period of time before someone is eligible that exceeds the long-haul periods that we have seen thus far.

However, long-term disability (LTD) as part of an employer's benefits offering can be a crucial bridge for people. These policies can intervene before governmental benefits become available, as soon as 180 or even 90 days after an employee is determined to be disabled. However, at the end of 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that this type of coverage was available to 35% of our workforce.

Policy language and contractual provisions can also present significant issues, such as requiring an employee to be under the continuous care of a physician and that the insured has a condition and symptoms causing restrictions and limitations to the point that they cannot perform the material duties of their job either on a continuous or intermittent basis causing a certain percentage loss of income.

Given the mass of cases and ongoing treatment associated with COVID-19 that we seem poised to face, the need for effective disability coverage is becoming clearer than ever. Without a comprehensive understanding of how a policy may respond, a well-intentioned employer may find unintended limits in safeguarding their employees.

John Shaw is account executive at Risk Strategies Company.

Monday, November 8, 2021