Long COVID may affect Long Term Disability claims
Long Term Disability (LTD) insurance is increasingly becoming an important component of an employer’s compensation package. Not only does it help recruit and keep the best possible talent, disability insurance also gives employees – and their employers – the peace of mind that if they are unable to work for an extended period, the insurance will provide some level of income replacement during their recovery with a goal of getting them back to work.
A new update from Equitable Life of Canada suggests that a spike in LTD claims is around the corner as employees deal with the lingering effects of COVID-19. Employers are advised to examine their policies, especially around flexibility, communication, and back-to-work strategies to mitigate these claims and keep their people as healthy as possible.
“Given the considerable impact that the pandemic is having on Canadians’ mental health, the incidence of new LTD claims is expected to increase,” noted the update. “But it won’t just be mental health claims that drive up LTD incidence… we’re seeing the emergence of a new phenomenon called ‘Long COVID’ where people who contracted COVID-19 are experiencing lingering side effects for months after infection.”
Healthcare professionals are still learning about these lingering side effects. Adam Brown, one of the founders and the clinical lead at Cornerstone Physiotherapy says the illness can be a confusing problem to navigate. Adam runs several clinics in Toronto and southern Ontario and is part of University Health Network research team looking at symptoms and interventions to support patients suffering from Long COVID so that they can build the best recovery regimen for patients. His study equips patients with health monitoring devices such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch, and relies on regular patient reporting and symptom monitoring.
“We’re learning that this is unpredictable. Patients feel as though they have little control over their symptoms. They’ll feel okay, then experience severe fatigue, breathlessness, brain fog, pain and symptoms can worsen in what seems like a random fashion,” he says, noting that the recovery strategy for Long COVID is proving to differ from his usual approach.
“We have come to understand that even mild physical activity, which is frequently part of a return-to-wellness program, can make symptoms worse. We’re seeing ‘post exertional malaise’ – when someone is suffering from Long COVID and is too active, their body doesn’t recover as usual, and this can cause them to crash, and may even lead to permanent physical damage.”
His team has developed a unique virtual Long COVID treatment program that draws on what he is learning through the study. His advice for employers that are working with people experiencing Long COVID is to first become informed about the condition, and to be as open and flexible as possible, encouraging and welcoming honest communication.
“In my experience, there is a stigma around breathlessness and fatigue and other symptoms of Long COVID which can present like chronic fatigue syndrome. People experiencing this have felt discriminated against as it’s often suggested they have psychological issues. Understanding this is a very real physiological condition with real causes and symptoms is essential.”
A key is to let employees dictate the pace and activity related to their return to work, he says, especially if they are in a role that requires physical exertion. Where traditionally a slow return to work might look like mornings only or three concurrent days per week – approaches that tend to be easier for employers than a more fragmented schedule – he advises a different cadence.
“It’s important the employers allow for recovery and recharge between workdays – a day of work and a day of recovery would be a smarter plan than two days on, two off or half days every day,” he says.
He also suggests that employers encourage their employee to work with a healthcare professional who has experience with the condition and understands these findings.