With the spread of the COVID-19 (coronavirus), many people are worried about what effect this will have on their long term and short term disability benefits. Or maybe you or your loved one have become ill from the coronavirus. Can you apply for disability benefits if you have the coronavirus?
What is COVID-19?
So what is COVID-19? Coronaviruses are a group of virus strands that represent everything from the common cold to more deadly viruses like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). COVID- 19 is a virus that was discovered in Wuhan, China, in 2019. The assumption is that it originated from bats and became transmitted to people through a local fish market. COVID-19 has an incubation period of 14 days. Symptoms can be mild with just a fever and feeling tired in healthy people to severe pneumonia and respiratory distress in people who have weakened immune systems, have been sick before with a major illness like cancer, or who have respiratory problems like COPD or asthma.
How Will COVID-19 Affect My Disability Payments?
With so many cases spreading around the world, there are a growing number of people who are hospitalized and who have died from this disease. In an effort to stop the spread, most companies and government agencies have closed buildings and moved to work from home. Only essential workers are being allowed to continue to work in the office to minimize risk. As of today, no insurance companies have stated that you will miss a scheduled payment. All payments should continue to come to you as normal. Likewise, people have not reported missing their disability checks.
The only concern should be if the US post office decided to close or modify it’s work schedule to protect its workers. If you receive your check by mail, this will affect you. Our advice is to check with your local post office to see if they expect a closure.
How Will It Affect Me Filing for Disability if it’s NOT related to COVID-19?
Due to the high number of business closures, it may take you longer to file your new claim than it would normally be. Offices like your human resources department are working from home with limited office hours, so getting and returning your disability forms will be more difficult.
Many doctors’ offices are limiting patient access to their facilities. They have been asking that patients use teletherapy services if offered or wait in your vehicle upon checking in to avoid the exposure of patients in the waiting area. If you think you have the coronavirus, you are asked to wait in your car to be tested or use a drive-thru testing program offered at many offices around the country. With all of this disruption, completing disability paperwork for patients is even more difficult than before, so expect much longer wait times to receive your completed paperwork.
Less Time With Your Doctor
The healthcare system is stretched thin across the country. Many doctors, nurses, and staff have been working 60+ hours a week to care for a large number of sick patients from COVID-19 in addition to their regular caseload of patients. If you are able to get an appointment with your doctor for your disability, expect the doctors and nurses to be more in a hurry than usual. They may also not be as attentive as usual. You still need to be persistent with them to make sure that your concerns are noted on your chart by the doctor, and the correct testing is ordered (x-rays, MRIs, and lab work) to help with your diagnosis. But don’t be rude or impatient with the doctor or nurses. Show empathy by asking them how they are holding up or how their family is doing. Showing that you care about them will help your case tremendously.
Longer Lab Wait Times
Since many doctor’s offices have limited access, you should accept that you will have to wait long periods of time for testing.
LabCorp, one of the nation’s largest diagnostic testing companies, released a statement last week that it now has the capability to test up to 20,000 COVID-19 samples per day and acting in accordance with the White House COVID-19 Task Force, has now made testing for the virus it’s the top priority. What does that mean for you? Lab results that usually take only a few days to come back will probably be delayed by ten days or longer in some cases. Priority has now shifted to testing as many people as possible to stop the spread of COVID-19. If you are waiting on lab results for your disability claim, use a journal to document these delays. In your journal note, the time, date, the person you spoke to at the lab, and the status update you were provided. Continue to check back with the lab to see how your status is progressing and write it down. This will serve as your documentation that your delayed labs were not your fault in case the insurance company raises the issue during your claim review.
Canceled Appointments and Non-Essential Surgeries
Canceled appointments are another issue that can be raised by the insurance company during the claims process. During the COVID-19 pandemic, doctor’s offices and hospitals across the country are canceling or rescheduling appointments and non-essential surgeries. Doctors’ offices are running above capacity with people who need to be tested or treated with COVID-19 related symptoms. Many doctor’s offices are canceling follow-up appointments or handling them by phone to relieve the number of people in their office waiting rooms. Hospitals are at the epicenter of this pandemic, with operating rooms being converted into COVID-19 treatment rooms. Essential surgeries include trauma, appendectomies, perforated ulcers, and cancer surgeries. All other surgeries are being canceled. Surgeries for things like hip, knee, or joint replacements, herniated disks repair, and even non-essential biopsies are being canceled or rescheduled.
Keep detailed notes in your journal when you are notified of a canceled or rescheduled appointment. If you are notified by phone, then write down the date, time, who called, and what they said in your journal. If you were notified by mail, save the note in your journal along with the entry. This will be your documentation for your claim that proves these delays in treatment were not your fault.
I’m Not Working Right Now Due to COVID-19. Is My Disability Insurance Canceled?
A concern from employees has been if you are not working right now due to an issue related to COVID-19, will you lose your disability benefits? In normal circumstances, you must work a minimum number of hours to be eligible for disability benefits. However, most insurance companies recognize this pandemic as affecting everyone and have, therefore, implemented a 90 day grace period for all disability benefits. An example of this is The Standard that is offering a grace period until June 30, 2020, for all employees covered under their insurance company. It’s best to contact your human resources department to check on how they plan to handle payments for disability benefits during this period of time for employees.
Could You Qualify For Disability Benefits For COVID-19?
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, you may qualify for disability benefits. Most disability companies have put out a statement that says they are here to help and will evaluate disability coverage on a case by case basis. The best thing to do is to contact your employer and request a copy of your disability policy to see what disabilities are covered.
How to Protect Yourself from COVID-19?
If you have not been infected with COVID-19 but are suffering from a disability, you need to use every precaution to protect yourself. COVID-19 has proved to be especially hard on people that already have a weakened immune system. The vast majority of deaths caused by the virus are in people who had a pre-existing medical condition. In order to protect yourself, follow the CDC recommendations:
Clean Your Hands Often
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid Close Contact
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community.
Stay Home If You’re Sick
- Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care. Learn what to do if you are sick.
Cover Coughs and Sneezes
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
- Throw used tissues in the trash.
- Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Wear a Facemask If You Are Sick
- If you are sick: You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a facemask if they enter your room. Learn what to do if you are sick.
- If you are NOT sick: You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask). Facemasks may be in short supply, and they should be saved for caregivers.
Clean and Disinfect
- Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
- If surfaces are dirty, clean them: Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
Consult An Attorney
If you are unsure how this pandemic will affect you, we offer a free consultation with no obligation to use our firm. Give us a call and we will help you. Call (888) 321-8131, and let us help you move your claim forward.