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Mental health & disability insurance in the age of COVID-19

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Beyond physical health, COVID-19 has had a significant effect on mental health. A recent study shows that COVID-19 survivors develop mental or neurological disorders at a higher rate than peers who recovered from non-COVID-19 respiratory illnesses.

Even for people who haven't had COVID-19, the stress of lockdowns, layoffs, and more social isolation has taken a toll. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the percentage of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression increased from 10 percent in 2019 to just over 40 percent in 2020.

When it comes to disability, mental illness can be just as severe as physical illness. However, insurers can be much more cautious when including coverage for disability resulting from mental illness.

Here's what you need to understand about coverage for mental illness and applying for disability insurance.

Disability insurance for mental illness

Several mental illness diagnoses are eligible for benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). These include anxiety, depression, OCD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and more.

While these conditions are eligible, to begin receiving benefit payments you must apply. To be approved, you must have a doctor's diagnosis, not be able to perform work you've been doing, have an inability to be trained for other work, and your symptoms must be anticipated to last at least one year.

While guidelines for SSDI are helpful to understand, private insurers can have different rules according to the terms of the policy.

Applying for disability insurance

As you complete the disability insurance application process, you'll need to understand how pre-existing conditions are treated and carefully review your policy's terms.

Find a reliable insurance company

High financial strength ratings from A.M. Best indicate that an insurance carrier is financially stable and likely to be able to pay its policyholders' claims. Since long-term disability insurance claims can result in large payments over several years, you want to be confident in your insurer.

Breeze offers policies from Assurity Life Insurance Company and Principal Life Insurance Company, both of which carry high ratings for financial strength. You can rest assured that your policy is from a dependable insurer when purchasing long-term disability insurance through Breeze.

Apply online for disability insurance with Breeze.

Be aware of pre-existing conditions

Insurers are careful with pre-existing conditions. When it comes to mental illness and disability insurance, you may be eligible for similar coverage as someone without a pre-existing mental illness or disability related to mental illness may not be covered at all. The outcome you qualify for will depend on the insurer's underwriting.

If you are approved for coverage, you may get the same coverage as someone without a pre-existing mental illness. However, you may pay a higher premium because the insurer may decide your risk is higher.

[ Related read: Disability insurance & pre-existing conditions, explained ]

Review your policy's terms carefully

Before you purchase a policy, be sure you understand the terms and conditions. It's not uncommon for insurers to limit the coverage they offer for mental illness disability. Review what the requirements are for coverage to apply so you know what to expect when you file a claim.

Protecting your income & mental health

If you're concerned about your mental health affecting your ability to work, learning more about Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and purchasing your own disability insurance policy can help reduce stress.

Keep in mind that you may qualify for similar coverage as someone without a history of mental illness at a similar or higher rate depending on underwriting. In some cases, you may only be able to get a policy that doesn't cover mental health disabilities.

As you consider disability insurance companies, check the financial strength ratings. High financial strength ratings are common references for how financially stable an insurer is.

Once you find a good disability insurance option (like Breeze), pay close attention to the coverage terms and any limitations included with the policy. Understanding your policy will help you know what to expect.

Alice Stevens has managed the health and life insurance content for Best Company since 2018. She’s passionate about conducting good research and understanding the details you need to know about insurance.

The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

— Published April 27, 2021
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