If you have short-term disability insurance coverage, which many people get from their employer, you may be protected from a situation where coronavirus leaves you unable to work. However, you can only claim disability benefits if a doctor or other medical professional verifies that information.
If you have long-term disability insurance and you suffer complications that keep you out of work for 90 days or more (varies by policy), then you may be able to claim long-term disability benefits.
Long COVID can also qualify you to receive disability benefits, if the symptoms significantly limit your ability to work.
“Essentially, there has to be a medical reason you can’t work, such as a medical quarantine. And a social quarantine is not a medical quarantine,” says Nicholas Mancuso, former Disability and Advanced Planning Team Manager at Policygenius.
Social quarantines, like when a state mandates that people work from home, do not qualify you for disability benefits. Disability insurance also won’t cover you if you lose your job or income because your employer is closed.
If you’re already sick, your disability insurance won't cover complications from that illness.
Does short-term disability insurance cover COVID?
Short-term disability insurance will cover illness from COVID-19 and any other coronavirus-related illnesses only if you can no longer work because of a clear medical reason, including a medical quarantine.
If you are sick but can still perform your job duties, you cannot qualify for disability benefits. In more technical terms, you need to have a verified medical limitation in order to receive disability benefits due to COVID.
Most people get short-term disability insurance from their employer as part of a group disability plan. Short-term disability benefits usually last less than a year.
Disability for COVID quarantine
If you test positive for COVID-19, you can claim short-term disability benefits when a doctor or other medical professional requires you to self-isolate — and that leaves you unable to do your job. For example, if a nurse was diagnosed with COVID-19 and could no longer perform their duties as a nurse because they had to self-isolate, this would qualify for short-term disability benefits. If you are diagnosed with COVID and able to continue your job from work, then you will not qualify for short-term disability.
Mancuso says, "In the event you do get the coronavirus and need to stay at home, you do need to get medical verification from a third party.” However, when hospitals are operating at a limited-capacity, as has happened during the pandemic, they may turn away individuals who don't require immediate attention.
In this situation, the recommendation from Mancuso is that if you can't meet with a doctor at your local hospital, look for a virtual doctor. Many health care providers already have virtual services (sometimes called teledoctors). These can get you the verification you need to claim disability benefits, and they also prevent you from going outside (and possibly spreading COVID-19) any more than is necessary.
Does long-term disability insurance cover COVID?
You likely won't be able to claim long-term disability insurance benefits because of coronavirus unless you have long-term complications that result from your COVID-19 illness.
According to Mancuso, "It's generally more difficult to qualify for long-term disability benefits with the coronavirus because of elimination periods for long-term policies." The elimination period of a disability insurance policy is how long you must be unable to work — for medical reasons — before you can start receiving benefits. Long-term disability policies have elimination periods of at least 90 days.
To claim long-term disability benefits because of coronavirus, you need to satisfy the same requirements as with short-term benefits: You must be unable to work because of a clear medical condition that has been verified by a doctor or other medical professional.
It's also important to remember that a social quarantine is not a medical quarantine. If your city, your state, or even the federal government requires everyone to work from home, that is not a medical quarantine. For example, restaurant workers who cannot work because their state required all restaurants to close will not be able to claim disability benefits, even if their employer remains closed for many months. (However, you may be able to claim unemployment benefits if you are laid off.)
Long COVID disability
There may be long-term health issues for COVID survivors, but they will only qualify you for disability benefits if the lingering side effects make it impossible for you to work or live normally.
The long-term side effects of what’s now called long COVID include:
Tiredness or fatigue
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Difficulty concentrating or thinking (brain fog)
Dizziness upon standing
Heart palpitations (fast-beating or pounding heart)
Joint or muscle pain
Depression or anxiety
Loss of taste or smell
The Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services considers long COVID to be a disability — if it significantly impacts your life and your ability to perform major life activities. People with long COVID are protected from discriminatory practices, including workplaces prejudices, under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Patient Protections for Affordable Care Act.
Claiming long COVID disability benefits
Having long COVID could qualify you for long-term disability benefits from your insurance company as well as from Social Security. In order for long COVID to count as a disability, the symptoms must significantly limit your ability to work so that you meet the definition of disability. The first step to getting long COVID disability benefits is getting medical proof from a doctor that demonstrates how it affect you and your ability to work. This is more important than a positive COVID test when it comes to filing a disability claim for long COVID.
However, diagnosing long COVID and its severity can be difficult since many of the symptoms, like brain fog, are self-reported and can be hard to measure in concrete terms. It can be especially difficult to get approved for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI). You’ll need to prove that long COVID is so severe that you are totally and permanently disabled.
Once you meet the definition of disability and provide medical proof that long COVID is debilitating enough to render you unable to work at your job, then you can start receiving benefit payments.
Should you apply for disability insurance in case you get COVID?
Yes. Long-term disability benefits offer valuable protection and provide a safety net for you and your family in case you can no longer work. Even if your employer offers short-term disability, this may only cover you for three months. If you sustain a serious illness, like a chronic respiratory illness after dealing with COVID-19, your short-term disability benefits won’t last long enough to pay all your bills.
As Mancuso says, “We don’t know what the long-term effects of the coronavirus will be, and we don’t know what pandemic could happen in the future. If coronavirus starts you thinking about what happens if you get sick and can’t work, you should use it as a catalyst to get covered.”
When to apply for disability insurance
While you’re young and healthy is the best time to get disability insurance (even though that sounds counterintuitive) because you will receive the lowest rates. The longer you wait, the more expensive plans will get. And if you wait until you’re already sick, insurers won’t give you a policy at all. You will also have to wait a certain amount of time after being sick before you can apply, which will only mean higher rates.
If you want to learn more about possible coverage, Policygenius can help you find the right disability insurance for your situation.