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What is Disability Insurance?

A disability insurance agreement.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Lindsay D.
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2014
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Disability insurance, sometimes called 'Health and Accident Coverage', is a policy designed to pay out a percentage of the holder's current wages if he or she becomes unable to work. The two main reasons for claiming disability insurance benefits are accidents (whether on the job or not) and debilitating illnesses. Workers covered under disability insurance policies must prove that they cannot perform the majority of their present duties to qualify for total disability status.

Insurance experts advise customers to do some comparison shopping before taking out a disability insurance policy. The least expensive policies may also be the most restrictive in terms of eligibility and monthly payouts. Individual insurance companies can set their own terms, so look for specific items like a significant income percentage payout (45% to 60% is typical), a 90 day or less waiting period for benefit eligibility, and fewer restrictions on alternative employment options. Many workers want to feel useful by pursuing occupations not affected by the disability, but some disability insurance policies strongly discourage this practice.

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Some professional insurance agents consider the ideal disability policy to be a form called 'own occupation' coverage. Under this type of plan, disabled workers can continue to earn income through other jobs while collecting benefits from the policy. While a policy like 'own occupation' may benefit the policy holder, insurance companies tend to promote other plans first. An alternative disability insurance policy pays a percentage of lost income as long as the insured worker agrees to only consider future employment in his or her current field. Possibly the worst form of disability insurance can require disabled workers to seek out any and all jobs available, including low paying McJobs with no benefits.

Another element of disability insurance involves returning to work following an illness or accident. A business owner might be able to resume most of his duties, but still suffer a loss of income and time. This leads to a claim called 'residual disability'. Residual disability insurance policies should continue to pay a percentage of the insured worker's income until he or she is working at the same level as before the sickness or accident. Some cheaper insurance policies do not offer residual disability coverage or will only pay out for lost time, not income.

As with many other insurance plans, having disability insurance coverage usually makes more financial sense than not having it. Many group insurance policies provide for emergency treatments or short-term health care, but few protect workers from the long-term effects of a disability or debilitating illness. Having enough income to pay off a home mortgage and other major credit obligations while recovering from a disabling accident can bring tremendous piece of mind. Finding affordable health care insurance AFTER a major accident or illness can be nearly impossible.

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