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The Pandemic, Healthcare Professional Burnout, and Disability Insurance: What You Need to Know

By Courtney Lee 12:13 pm MDT 10/27/2020

The Pandemic, Healthcare Professional Burnout, and Disability Insurance: What You Need to Know: The COVID-19 crisis has taken a toll on people all over the world. From elementary schools to pro sports, almost every piece of our society has felt the virus’s effects. But perhaps no one has felt more pandemic-related pressure than healthcare professionals.

This fact was tragically displayed when a New York City ER physician committed suicide due to the horrors she experienced while working on the front lines of treating COVID-19. Healthcare workers are risking their lives to care for their patients. They are also witnessing widespread sickness and suffering while dealing with concerns about having enough PPE and life-saving equipment to do their jobs. As a result, these medical workers face trauma, sadness, and fear of what will happen next. And with no end in sight, our healthcare community is at significant risk of experiencing a serious burnout.

How, then, may healthcare professionals ensure that they are healthy enough to do their jobs effectively? Can the pressures of this unprecedented situation cause mental health issues that rise to a disability level? And if COVID-19 related stress leads to an illness or injury serious enough to cause long or short-term disability, will typical disability insurance policies cover this unique situation?

Stress causes serious physical and mental health problems

Stress is one of the most common triggers of physical and mental health problems. When considering all of the underlying conditions or diseases one might have, stress will invariably make things worse. Stress may exacerbate conditions like:

  • Heart disease
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Depression and anxiety
  • GI problems
  • OCD
  • Asthma
  • Migraines
  • and more

Because of this, COVID burnout is a real threat to American patients and their families. If a doctor is too sick or stressed to offer the best possible care, then they are essentially unable to perform their job duties properly because of their condition.

Will disability insurance cover claims based on healthcare professional burnout?

As one might imagine, it might be challenging to convince an insurance provider that increased job stress is a good enough reason to pay out a disability claim. After all, aren’t healthcare careers inherently stressful?

Perhaps. But the COVID-19 crisis is not the same as the workplace stress that healthcare pros might encounter during normal times. It’s essential to understand the mental health problems or stress-induced diagnoses your disability insurance carrier may cover.

The average disability policy is not good enough for burnout issues

Many healthcare professionals understand the importance of having “own occupation“ disability coverage versus “any occupation” coverage. An own occupation policy ensures that a healthcare worker can collect disability payments in the effect that the worker is barred from working in their usual occupation. However, even with an “own occupation” definition of disability some carriers may deny a claim if the healthcare worker can still practice medicine or work within their field in a different or limited capacity.

The ideal solution is for healthcare professionals to buy a disability policy that will pay out in any situation where a healthcare professional cannot perform their usual and specific procedures and duties. Healthcare professionals need an “own procedures” definition of disability. Here’s an example: imagine that a highly skilled surgeon is experiencing tremors caused by their stress from the COVID-19 pandemic. While the surgeon might be able to practice medicine in some regard, they may be prevented from performing their usual surgical activities.

Some income protection policies may also require stringent proof of disability to start paying out on the claim. If an insurer requires examinations or rigorous interviews to pay on a burnout-related claim, the healthcare professional faces even more stress and pressure.

Now is the time for brokers to help healthcare workers make sure that their income protecting disability insurance policies are up to date

The COVID-19 crisis provides a good reason for healthcare professionals to make sure they fully understand the extent of their disability coverage. Will their coverage kick in as soon as a burnout-related disability begins affecting job performance? Or does the healthcare professional need to undergo a comprehensive and detailed investigation of their disability? Who determines whether the disability claim is legitimate? If it is legitimate, how long does the professional need to be away from work to recover fully? These are the crucial questions brokers must make sure healthcare professionals understand when discussing disability coverage.

Like everyone, insurance professionals are dealing with completely uncharted territory. That’s why experienced insurance brokers must prepare to help their clients navigate their way through this challenging time. But armed with good disability insurance options, brokers can help our heroes on the front lines have the protection they need.

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