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Disability insurance & cancer

Disability insurance pays out if you have cancer and can’t work, but only if you had the policy before your diagnosis.

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Andrew HurstSenior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance ExpertAndrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Edited by

Anna SwartzAnna SwartzSenior Managing Editor & Auto Insurance ExpertAnna Swartz is a senior managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic.com, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

Updated|4 min read

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Your disability insurance will cover you if you have cancer and need to take time off work, but only if you had the policy prior to your diagnosis. Neither short-term nor long-term disability insurance will cover pre-existing conditions.

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You might be able to find disability insurance after your cancer is in remission — but your policy may not cover you if the cancer recurs.

Does disability insurance cover cancer?

Yes, you can use your disability insurance if you’re diagnosed with cancer and can’t work, that’s what disability insurance is designed for. 

Disability insurance benefits work just like your regular income, so you can use your payments to cover your rent or mortgage, utilities, loan payments, groceries, childcare, and any other regular expenses.

Your disability insurance may cover you for a few months while you’re undergoing treatment for cancer or even for years if you never go back to your current job, but it depends on the type of policy you have:

  • Short-term disability insurance: You can usually receive benefits for between three and six months, but not more than a year. If you get disability insurance through work it’s probably short-term.

  • Long-term disability insurance: This is the type of policy we recommend if you’re getting individual disability insurance — you can choose coverage that lasts for one, two, five, or 10 years, or coverage that lasts all the way through retirement age (65 or older).

What types of cancer qualify for disability coverage?

The type of cancer you have shouldn’t matter when it comes to using your disability insurance. Lung cancer, melanomas, breast cancer, colorectal cancers can all be covered by disability insurance — the thing that matters to the disability insurance company is that you’re unable to work.

You can qualify for disability insurance as long as your cancer diagnosis or treatment keeps you from being able to do your job (and the cancer wasn’t a pre-existing condition when you signed up for coverage).

Most companies do what’s called a “look back” to see if there were any signs of your cancer diagnosis right before your policy’s start date. 

A typical look back period is three months. As long as you weren’t treated for something that could be taken as a sign of your cancer diagnosis in that period, you should qualify for disability benefits.

Can you apply for disability insurance if you currently have cancer?

Unfortunately, if you don’t already have disability insurance when you’re diagnosed with cancer or going through treatment, you probably can’t apply for a new disability insurance policy.

Disability insurance covers you if you have an unexpected injury or illness and you can’t work, but you have to buy it as insurance against the future, not once you’re already sick or hurt. It doesn’t cover any pre-existing conditions you have when you apply.

What is a pre-existing condition?

A pre-existing condition is a condition that you already have when you apply for disability insurance. Any other pre-existing conditions, like asthma, chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, and even long COVID-19 symptoms can make it hard to get disability insurance, too.

Can you get disability insurance after having cancer?

Once you go through treatment and your cancer is in remission, you can apply for disability insurance, but you’ll need a doctor to sign off on your health.

It can be hard to find disability insurance even once you’re in remission. Not every insurance company offers policies to cancer survivors. 

Your rates may also be more expensive than someone with no history of cancer, but you can shop around and compare disability insurance quotes to find more affordable coverage.

And once you get disability insurance, your previous cancer diagnosis will be considered a pre-existing condition, so you may not be covered if it recurs and you need to take time off work again. Depending on the type of cancer you had, your insurance company may not cover any future cancer diagnoses.

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How to file a disability insurance claim if you have cancer

As soon as you know you need to take time off work because of a cancer diagnosis, you should contact your insurance company by phone or mail to make a disability insurance claim

Usually you have to fill out a claims packet with the following information:

  • Personal details about yourself: This includes your address, an explanation of your disability, what you do for work, your income, and other benefits you already receive.

  • Authorization to obtain: This gives your insurance company permission to access your medical information.

  • A statement from your doctor: A doctor who’s treating you fills out an attending physician’s statement (APS) explaining your illness, your medicine and treatments, and whether they think you can work in the future.

  • A statement from your employer: Your employer explains your role in the company, how your illness has affected your work, and whether your cancer diagnosis has impacted your income.

SSDI and cancer

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and can’t work, you also might qualify for disability insurance benefits from Social Security. You can get benefits from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) regardless of whether you have a personal disability insurance policy.

You can qualify for disability benefits from Social Security if your cancer diagnosis or treatment is expected to keep you out of work for at least a year. You also need to meet Social Security’s work requirements.

Social Security can speed up the approval process if you have an especially serious diagnosis (qualifying types of cancer are listed in the agency’s Blue Book and include acute or metastasized cancers, and cancers of the esophagus, gallbladder, liver, thyroid, and others.

If you’re not eligible to be fast-tracked but you meet Social Security’s work requirements, you can still get benefits, it will just take longer to be approved.

You may also be able to get some disability insurance benefits from your state. California, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island (and Puerto Rico) have mandatory disability insurance programs.

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Frequently asked questions

Can you use short-term disability insurance for cancer?

Yes, you can get short-term disability insurance benefits if you’re out of work because of a cancer diagnosis. Keep in mind that short-term disability insurance only lasts for a few months, which probably isn’t enough coverage, depending on how long you think you’ll be unable to work.

When doesn’t disability insurance cover cancer?

Disability insurance doesn’t cover cancer if you already had a cancer diagnosis when you signed up for coverage. You also won’t be able to get disability insurance to cover a recurrence of previously-diagnosed cancer.

Is everyone eligible for Social Security benefits for cancer?

No, not everyone with cancer is eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance. You can only receive SSDI if you meet the Social Security Administration’s work requirements, which are tied to your income.

Author

Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Editor

Anna Swartz is a senior managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic.com, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

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