With many companies gearing up for their annual open enrollment period - the time when workers can select or modify their health and other benefits - the number of American workers unprepared for disability continues to be a critical issue.
Most Americans don't think that they will ever suffer a serious illness or injury that keeps them out of work. According to the Council for Disability Awareness (CDA), 90 percent of workers underestimate their chances. But three in 10 workers will face disability at some point. The average disability lasts about 2.5 years and one in seven workers will be disabled for at least five years.
"Most workers see open enrollment as a time to evaluate their health insurance and retirement benefits," says Bob Taylor, president of the CDA, a nonprofit organization focused on helping the American workforce become aware of the growing incidence of disability. "They do not take the time to think about the unthinkable, so they aren't planning ahead for the chance of disability."
Many individuals believe that workers' compensation and Social Security will be adequate to cover the loss of income that would result from a disabling injury or illness. However, over 90 percent of disabilities occur off the job and not covered by workers' comp according to the National Safety Council. With Social Security disability benefits being more difficult to qualify for and averaging about $1,000 a month, workers need to make sure they know how they will maintain their lifestyle if they become disabled.
"Open enrollment offers an excellent opportunity for employees to take the time to think how they would manage through a period of disability as well as plan for other financial ramifications, such as securing your 401(k) and managing increased medical expenses that often accompany a disability." Taylor explains.
Taylor encourages all workers to understand their employer's sick pay program, disability benefits and other support in the event of a disability. "Just as employers offer assistance in the event of a disability, workers should return the favor by engaging in healthy lifestyle habits, such as getting annual check-ups, exercising regularly and practicing safety on and off the job," he says.
For more information about open enrollment and for tools and tips on how to financially prepare for disability, visit CDA's Web site, www.disabilitycanhappen.org.