Disability: It Can Happen to You

If you and your family rely on your continuing ability to earn an income in order to pay the bills, then disability may be the biggest threat to your financial well-being. 

According to the Council for Disability Awareness, the average 35 year old male of typical height and weight working in an office job has a one in five chance of becoming disabled during his working years for three months or more. Of those people, four in ten will face a disability that lasts for three months or more. 

For the average 35 year old female, the chances of encountering a disability are even higher: one in four. 

That’s what happened to Kristen, a 35 year old dentist in great health. Smart, educated, and physically active, Kristen was doing quite well professionally, but thought it was time to start a family. 

She chose in-vitro fertilization, but the IVF treatments caused her ovaries to become inflamed – a condition affecting between 3 and 6 percent of all women going through IVF called Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome 

In the vast majority of cases, the condition resolves quickly, and with minimal medical treatment necessary.  

But Kristen was among the unfortunate and very rare cases that developed a blood clot – resulting in long-term paralysis on her left side, and confining her to a wheelchair for months. Even with decent medical coverage, her medical bills were piling up, just as she was no longer to earn a living as a dentist. 

“I was in perfect health and had my life planned out one day, and the next I was partially paralyzed and my life turned upside down,” she says. 

After spending months in rehab, she finally regained partial use of her left arm – but the financial damage was devastating. 

Another case involved Monica, a successful mid-career woman in the financial services industry. Monica was 37, in excellent health, and enjoying both her career and the rewards of motherhood until one day in 2003 when she happened to step off a porch onto a slippery patch of ground. She braced her fall, but shattered her right arm in twelve places – requiring surgery to repair. 

But the surgery wasn’t enough. As a result of the fall, she developed a condition called osteonecrosis, or “dying of the bone.” Her bones became quite fragile and started to crumble, and she was forced to use a wheelchair. She also had trouble taking care of herself and engaging in basic activities of daily living (ADLs), including bathing, eating and dressing herself.

Soon she had to hire a caretaker – a long-term care expense most major medical insurance policies don’t cover. Monica was forced to spend down her retirement savings in order to pay for the care she desperately needed. 

In both cases, these women would have benefitted from individually-owned disability insurance policies. These are policies that kick in when the insured becomes disabled and unable to work. Most disability insurance policies will replace between 50 percent and 65 percent of pre-disability income – generally enough to pay the mortgage or rent, food and take care of other basic living expenses while giving you time to recover. 

Very likely, both women would also have benefitted substantially from long-term care insurance. This coverage pays for skilled or unskilled nursing assistance and support with activities of daily living that are not covered by major medical insurance or by Medicare or Medicaid. 

“Who would have expected to become permanently disabled from a broken arm?” she says. 

Eventually, Monica was able to qualify for SSDI – a small monthly disability stipend that’s part of Social Security. But it took her two years to qualify and actually receive benefits – and by that time much of the financial damage had already been done. 

“Everyone needs to prepare for the financial impacts that come when the unexpected happens,” advises Kristen, the dentist in the first story mentioned above.

 

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