Disability insurance pays you when you can’t work after an injury or illness. It covers most disabilities (the definition of disability can vary but usually includes a range of diagnoses), but how you’re covered depends on your policy and how serious your illness or injury is.
You can find the disability insurance coverage that’s right for you by comparing quotes and policies from different companies.
What is disability insurance?
Disability insurance is a type of insurance that covers your income if you suddenly can’t work because of an injury or illness, like if injuries from a car accident keep you home from the office for months.
You can use your disability insurance payments on your regular expenses, which means it can pay for anything from your rent or mortgage to your groceries or childcare.
What’s covered by disability insurance?
Disability insurance can cover nearly every type of illness or injury that keeps you from doing your job, including complications from pregnancy and childbirth, as well as:
Heart attack and heart disease
Muscle and joint disorders
As long as your policy doesn’t say that it won’t cover something, there’s a chance that you can receive disability benefits.
Special coverage for presumptive disabilities
Some serious disabilities change how your disability insurance coverage works. Usually, there’s a waiting period between the onset of your injury or illness and when your payments can start.
But if you have what’s referred to as a “presumptive disability,” your insurance company presumes you will never be able to return to work and waives the waiting period.
Disabilities that can qualify for presumptive benefits include losses of:
Hearing in both ears
Sight in both eyes
More than one hand or foot
Does disability insurance cover mental health?
Yes, disability insurance can cover disabilities related to mental health, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and other illnesses or conditions that can make it impossible to work.
Sometimes disability insurance even covers mental health disorders related to alcohol and drug abuse — but only if you didn’t abuse alcohol and drugs before you got a policy.
That said, your disability insurance can come with restrictions when it comes to covering mental health, like a shorter coverage period, so read your policy closely and reach out to your disability insurance company with any questions.
What’s not covered by disability insurance?
Disability insurance doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions, which means any injury or illness that you already have when you buy a policy.
So, if you’ve just been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and then you get disability insurance, it probably won’t cover any time you need to take off work because of the existing diagnosis. That’s why it’s a smart idea to secure a disability insurance policy earlier on in your career, just in case.
You might still be able to get disability insurance with a pre-existing condition, but you won’t be able to make a claim if your pre-existing condition keeps you from working.
Your disability insurance also won’t cover some illnesses or injuries if the circumstances violate the terms of your policy. That can include:
Injuries you get when committing a crime
Injuries from participating in a riot
Any self-inflicted injuries
It can also be hard to find disability insurance coverage if you’re a senior. Since disability insurance gets more expensive as you age, the older you are when you buy a policy, the more expensive it will be.
How long does disability insurance cover you?
The length of time your disability insurance will cover you while you’re out of work depends on whether you have:
Short-term disability insurance: Usually covers you for three to six months, but some policies can cover you for up to a year.
Long-term disability insurance: You can pick the maximum length of your coverage. You can usually choose between one, two, five, and 10 years, or coverage that lasts until you’re 65, 67, or 70.
If you buy a personal or private disability insurance policy, you have more control over your coverage. If you get disability insurance through work, which is called group disability insurance, you don’t get much say in how long your coverage lasts.
What else affects your disability insurance coverage?
Your disability insurance coverage also depends on how your policy defines a “disability,” which usually hinges on what job functions you’re able to do after your injury or illness.
An own-occupation policy means you’ll continue to get payments as long as you can’t do your specific job anymore, like if you were a surgeon or dentist and can’t continue practicing, even if you can do a different job.
An any-occupation policy means you’ll only get payments if you can’t find any work at all that matches your previous experience and education level, which can mean coverage will stop once you get a new job, even if it’s not what you were doing before.
It’s also possible for your disability insurance to switch from own-occupation to any-occupation after you get benefits for a few years.
What do disability insurance riders cover?
Riders are optional features that change or add to your policy. Some riders are included at no extra cost, but you have to pay to add others.
Here are just a few common disability insurance riders to consider:
Automatic increase rider: Automatically increases your disability insurance coverage without needing another medical exam.
Cost of living adjustment rider: Increases your disability insurance coverage to keep up with inflation; can be expensive.
Future increase option: Lets you add more disability insurance coverage in the future without going through another medical exam.
Guaranteed renewable and non-cancelable rider: Guarantees that you keep your coverage and at the same rate as long as you keep paying your premiums on time.
Partial disability benefit: Allows you to collect some benefits if you can still do some of your job, but not all of it.
Rehabilitation rider: Covers the cost of occupational or vocational rehab after a disability.
Retirement protection rider: Covers the payments that you would have made to a retirement fund, like a 401(k) or IRA.
Student loan protection rider: Helps you cover your student loan payments while you’re not able to work.
Does disability insurance cover dependents?
Yes, some disability insurance policies cover your dependents too. Not every policy covers dependents, but a few companies offer these extra coverage options:
Compassionate disability: Covers a dependent who comes to take time off of work to care for you while you’re disabled.
Survivor benefits: Covers your dependents for a few months if you die while receiving disability insurance benefits.