I Have Long COVID, Am I Entitled to Disability Benefits?

After living in the shadow of the global COVID pandemic for more than two years, the world is ready to move on, but the virus continues to show that it isn’t ready to leave us just yet.

According to Worldometer, nearly 480 million people have contracted the virus and recovered. But what this number doesn’t show are the millions of people who have recovered yet are still experiencing the long-term effects of the virus.

What is Long COVID?

Long COVID can occur in anyone previously diagnosed with the virus, regardless of severity. According to a recent study of nearly 2 million people diagnosed with COVID-19, 23% of participants continued to show at least one symptom of the virus for more than 30 days after their initial diagnoses.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that “people with post-COVID conditions can have a wide range of symptoms that can last more than four weeks or even months after infection. Sometimes the symptoms can even go away or come back again.” The CDC lists the official symptoms for Long COVID as follows:

  • Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort (also known as “post-exertional malaise”)
  • Fever
  • Respiratory and heart issues
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Headache
  • Sleep problems
  • Lightheadedness
  • Pins-and-needles feelings
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Digestive issues
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Rash
  • Changes in menstrual cycles

Is Long COVID a disability?

In July 2021 the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services jointly published guidance on how Long COVID can be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If Long COVID symptoms are substantially limiting your major life activities, you should begin documenting your symptoms, compiling relevant medical records, and looking into which resources are available — as you may be eligible for disability benefits.

What is long-term disability insurance?

Long-term disability insurance helps provide a monthly income if you become disabled due to a covered accident or illness. This coverage can help pay credit card bills, mortgages, college tuition, and more if you’re unable to work because of a disability.

As an AOA member, you already have access to group long-term disability insurance. For details including eligibility requirements visit our long-term disability page to learn more.

Why Employee Benefits Should Be Your #1 Focus This Year

More than two years in, and companies around the world are still learning how to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the ongoing threat of new virus variants, employers now face another unforeseen reaction to the pandemic that the media has dubbed as The Great Resignation.

According to the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. workers quit their job in near-record numbers in November of 2021, and employers followed up by posting 10.6 million job openings.

The pandemic has forced millions of individuals and families to re-evaluate their priorities, and a startling number of them have yet to return to the workforce. So how can businesses hang on to their existing staff while attracting new talent?

In a word, benefits. The employee benefits landscape is changing, fast. For starters, a base salary, alone, is no longer enough to stay competitive. Companies leading the way have added perks such as flexible working arrangements, increased paid time off, mental health support, parental leave, and even education assistance. And if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that taking care of one’s health has never been more important. Businesses embracing this are presenting their employees with more group health insurance options than ever before. For instance, some groups are electing to increase their employer contribution amounts toward health insurance plans from 50% to 100% and are even offering richer benefit plans. And what were once voluntary ancillary group benefits, such as dental and telehealth, are now part of many companies’ standard offering.

Your employees invest a lot into your business, and you invest the time and money to train them to be successful in their positions. Over time, you’ve come to value and rely on their consistency, dedication, and hard work. Make sure that they value you just as much.

Our team of licensed benefits counselors can help you curate an employee benefits package that stands out from the rest. Visit our group health & employee benefits page today to schedule an appointment or request a free quote.

Is An HSA Right For You?

Over the past ten years, health insurance has been a hot-topic issue in political arenas and dinner tables alike all throughout the country. From navigating the Affordable Care Act (ACA) regulations and compliance details to researching the available insurance offerings themselves, individuals all over are trying to find the best plan benefits for their budget.

Could a health savings account (HSA) be just the thing?

What Is An HSA?

An HSA is designed to act as a tax-deferred savings account to help you cover out-of-pocket expenses.  It can even be used for non-covered insurance expenses provided they fall under the IRS Qualified Medical Expense (QME) list.  This list includes elective procedures, such as Lasik eye surgery.

The general idea is that every month you contribute a set amount into your account and as your HSA grows you receive added financial protection for future healthcare needs, while also tax-sheltering more money.  This is a win-win.  Many banks will also allow you to invest the money you save into Mutual Funds for higher returns.

In order to take advantage of an HSA, you must first participate in an HSA-compatible plan, better known as a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP).

Adding Additional Benefits To Your Health Plan

Unlike a traditional savings account, HSA’s have a triple tax benefit:

  1. The contributions that go into your HSA are not taxed.
  2. Any interest your HSA earns is tax-free
  3. If you make a withdrawal on your HSA to help cover the cost of a qualified medical expense, you can rest easy knowing that that money will also be tax-free.

Another benefit of an HSA is the fact that there is no deadline on when you need to use the money in your account. Because of this, many are reaping the benefits of their HSA’s well into retirement.

Making The Decision

Ultimately, the only person who can decide if a health savings account is right for you, is you. In some cases, your employer might even offer a contribution match to your HSA account up to a certain dollar amount per year, which could help your savings out if you are already putting in the maximum as indicated by the IRS.

To learn more about HSA’s and how they could factor into your health planning, please visit the employer group solutions page.

The 2021 COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period: Final Week

While health insurance enrollment is typically only available during the annual Open Enrollment period at the end of the year (unless you have a qualifying life event), the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) led to the creation of a Special Enrollment Period to assist Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2021 Special Enrollment Period began on 2/15/21 and will close on 8/15/21.

As of June 30 more than 1.5 million people have enrolled in new health coverage since the Special Enrollment Period began, and another 2.5 million have been able to lower the premiums of their existing plans.

ARP subsidies have dramatically improved access and affordability for Americans. The qualification criteria have been expanded to include higher-income households, including those making more than 400% of the federal poverty line. ARP also provides increased subsidies for those who had already qualified, and households with income below 150% of the federal poverty level will benefit from eliminated premiums and decreased deductibles.

If you have not inquired about ARP savings since the income thresholds were loosened, schedule a free 15-minute appointment with a licensed benefits counselor. Remember: enrollment ends August 15.

Doctors: Invisible Disabilities And The Battles Within

Throughout the history of civilization, there have always been things that we did not understand— things that we believed to be real but couldn’t see. Faith, love— even germs all spring to mind though we may not have always had a scientific name for them.

While the human race has come a long way from our earliest beginnings, the simple truth is that science is ever-evolving and new things are discovered every day. Just as today we may laugh at some of the ancestral medical practices of the middle ages, our descendants may one day do the same to us.

The same could also be said for the discovery and further understanding and treatment of ailments previously attributed to an imbalance of the four humors or even demons.

The New Science On Invisible Disabilities

Most recently there has been a renewed focus on debilitating illnesses and diseases that may not always visible to the naked eye or even some advanced diagnostic testing techniques available to doctors and hospitals throughout the world. These ailments have been given the term invisible disabilities.

According to the Invisible Disabilities Association, in simple terms, an invisible disability is considered to be a physical, mental, or neurological condition that limits one’s mobility or senses to the point where they severely impact the individual’s everyday life and activities. Unlike other disabilities, invisible disabilities are imperceptible to onlookers and therefore can sometimes lead to misunderstandings, false perceptions, and judgment.

For example, according to the American Physical Therapy Association, “Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has come a long way since the 1980s when it was widely dismissed as ‘yuppie flu’ and was suspected by many health care providers of being a psychological rather than a physiological condition.” To date, there is no definitive test for CFS and it is instead considered to be diagnosed by exclusion.

Another well-known illness for which there is no definitive test to confirm its existence is fibromyalgia. The reigning Queen of Pop (disagree, if you dare) Lady Gaga, has (very publicly) brought the topic of fibromyalgia front and center in the media. Gaga, born Stefani Germanotta, has struggled with the illness for years, and though invisible— she has chosen to bravely document her struggle with its debilitating effects in the recent Netflix documentary Five Foot Two and has even been forced to cancel a number of shows on her Joanne tour due to the incredible debilitating pain associated with the illness.

Mental illnesses such as individuals who struggle with depression, anxiety, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, and more are also considered to have an invisible disability (if the symptoms they experience are severe enough); however, in these cases there are often more definitive ways of testing and diagnosing cases.

In addition to those previously listed, below are a number of other known invisible disabilities. Please note that though extensive, this is in no way to be considered a complete list of possible invisible disabilities.

  • Allergies
  • Arachnoiditis
  • Asperger Syndrome
  • Asthma
  • Autism
  • Brain injuries
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Chronic pain
  • Circadian rhythm sleep disorders
  • Coeliac Disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Ehlers Danlos Syndrome
  • Endometriosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
  • Food allergies
  • Fructose malabsorption
  • Hereditary Fructose Intolerance
  • Hyperhidrosis
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Interstitial cystitis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Lactose Intolerance
  • Lupus
  • Lyme Disease
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Migraines
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
  • Myasthenia Gravis
  • Narcolepsy
  • Personality disorders
  • Primary immunodeficiency
  • Psychiatric disabilities
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
  • Repetitive stress injuries
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Schnitzler’s Syndrome
  • Schizophrenia
  • Scleroderma
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Spinal Disorders
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder
  • Transverse Myelitis
  • Ulcerative Colitis

Testing The Odds

According to Disabled World, it is estimated that approximately ten percent of Americans have been diagnosed with a medical condition that could be labeled as an invisible disability. “Ninety-six percent of people with chronic medical conditions live with a condition that is invisible. These people do not use a cane or any assistive device and act as if they didn’t have a medical condition. About twenty-five percent of them have some type of activity limitation, ranging from mild to severe; the remaining seventy-five percent are not disabled by their chronic conditions.”

It has been estimated by the National Council on Disability that one out of every four Americans will be diagnosed with a long-term disability within their working careers. Could your family afford for you to be out of work for an extended period of time while you recover?

If you wish to receive more information about how you can safeguard your financial future in the event you are diagnosed with a long-term disability, please visit the disability insurance page for an instant quote, or schedule an appointment with one of our licensed benefits counselors.

Beyond Health: The Ancillary Benefits Your Practice Needs

We’ve all heard of Health Insurance, but it’s not uncommon to hear the term “Ancillary Benefits” in the same sentence. But while everyone is familiar with health insurance, not everyone is equally familiar with ancillary benefits. So, what exactly are they and should you be offering them to your employees?

First and foremost, while health insurance is just health insurance, ancillary benefits can be made up of a variety of different insurance and benefits offerings made available to your employees. Oftentimes, instead of listing out each and every benefit and insurance offering a company may offer, the term “ancillary” may be used instead.

Potential Ancillary Benefits Offerings

But despite the unfamiliarity of the term, the types of insurance benefit offerings it can refer to are all too common. Offerings such as dental and vision insurance, term life insurance, long-term Disability insurance, ID theft protection services, pet insurance, among many others are among the most popular ancillary benefit offerings companies and associations can offer their employees.

Dental and Vision Insurance

Providing your employees with dental insurance can benefit you as much as them. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular dental check-ups can improve an individual’s personal health, and having dental insurance can help save your employees from additional costly expenses should more serious treatments be needed. As is the case with anything health-related, regular check-ups are the key to catching any potential problems early and avoiding costly procedures later on.

Like dental check-ups, regular eye exams not only diagnose vision problems but can also provide early detection of serious health problems. Vision insurance is frequently offered alongside dental insurance and can be every bit as beneficial for employees to have as poor vision can result in everything from migraines, to blindness, and more.

Term-Life Insurance

Life insurance provides crucial financial protection for your family if something were to ever happen to you. An offering like this would help to give your employees peace of mind and let them know that you are looking out for their family’s financial future. It is not uncommon for Accidental Death & Dismemberment (AD&D) insurance to be included as well.

Long-Term Disability Insurance

Long-Term Disability insurance has been designed to help protect your employee’s financial well-being in the event an accident or illness occurs outside of the workplace. It is estimated that just over one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled before they retire. Long-Term Disability insurance helps your employees replace their lost income if they have an accident or illness that prevents them from working. Leading Long-Term Disability Insurance provider Guardian, can provide your employees with up to $10,000 in monthly disability coverage.

ID Theft Protection

In today’s internet age, you can never be too careful when it comes to protecting your identity. According to the 2020 Identity Fraud Study, conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research, $16.9 billion was stolen from consumers in the U.S. in 2019. With cyber criminals showing no sign of slowing down, it falls on individuals to protect their identity with smart banking practices and monitoring services.

Identity theft protection is a great ancillary benefit for employers to offer to their employees and is becoming arguably as important as health insurance to have.

Pet Insurance

Nothing will show your employees that you value them and their happiness more than by offering pet insurance for their four-legged friends. Just like the health costs for your employees, vet bills can be every bit as expensive. But by offering your employees pet insurance, they will be able to make sure that their pets stay as healthy as possible and be reimbursed for their vet visits via their pet insurance company.

Why Your Association Should Offer Ancillary Benefits

When benefit programs meet employees’ needs, employers enjoy a significant competitive advantage in attracting and retaining valuable employees. In addition, employees are more satisfied and become more willing to stay with your company. When you go through your association program, you get access to rate and participation concessions on Dental, Vision, Life, Disability, and more!

To see the benefits we currently offer, please visit our home page.

The 2021 COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period: What You Need To Know

On Thursday, January 28, 2021, President Biden announced plans to reopen the federal health insurance markets for a nation-wide Special Enrollment Period. This action is being taken in response to the massive economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted in some of the highest unemployment rates in decades.

When does it start, and how long does it last?

The 2021 Special Enrollment Period will begin on February 15 and run through May 15, 2021. Coverage effective dates for those who enroll during this time will begin on the first day of the month following an enrollment date. (For example, an enrollment date of March 4 will have an effective date of April 1.)

Will there be another Open Enrollment Period later this year?

Yes. The annual Open Enrollment Period will run from November 1 through December 15. Individuals who enroll during this time will have a January 1, 2022 coverage effective date.

I enrolled during the Open Enrollment period last year. Will I need to sign up for my plan again?

No. If you are currently enrolled in health insurance coverage, you do not need to enroll again. However, if you are interested in changing your coverage, this is your chance to secure ACA-compliant health insurance outside of the annual Open Enrollment Period. Just keep in mind that if you decide to change your plan, your deductible and out-of-pocket maximum will reset based on your new coverage details.

Is this only available to those impacted by COVID-19?

No. Even though this is being called a 2021 COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period, you do not need to have experienced COVID-19, or even a Qualifying Life Event to enroll in (or change) coverage.

Get Ready to Apply

To learn more or to begin shopping plans, visit our Health Insurance page or schedule an appointment to speak with a licensed benefits counselor.

3 Tips to Help Avoid a Disability Diagnosis

With rising medical costs and a lack of emergency savings, many Americans are at risk of financial difficulty if they miss work due to illness, injury, or pregnancy. This is why it’s more important than ever to prepare for the unexpected.

One way to prevent disabilities caused by illness is through early diagnosis and treatment. But there are also some things you can do to help minimize your chances of developing an illness that leads to a disability altogether.

Exercise daily. Most experts agree that just 30 minutes of exercise can reduce the risk of heart attack, diabetes, and stroke.

Eat right. For example, foods such as blueberries and cinnamon may have cancer-preventive properties, while avocados and wild-caught salmon are heart-healthy superfoods.

Get regular check-ups. Checking in with your doctor on a regular basis gives you the best chance of early detection.

Early diagnosis and treatment may help you weather the storm physically, while long-term disability (LTD) insurance can help you get through the financial impact of a disability. LTD insurance pays you a monthly benefit that you can use to help pay your expenses if you become disabled and cannot work to earn a living. Many LTD plans also offer return-to-work features that help you ease back into the workplace when you’re ready.

A Benefit of Your Membership

As a valuable benefit of your membership, the AOA Insurance Marketplace offers affordable LTD coverage.

If you are interested in learning more about this product, please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have. Our benefits counselors are standing by to help guide you to a plan that best suits your unique needs.

5 Ways to Help You Stay Healthy This Holiday Season

The holidays are going to look a lot different this year due to COVID-19.

Every year millions of Americans pile into each other’s homes to celebrate the season with food, family, and football. That urge has never been stronger than this year. With millions of people working from home and many states enacting safer-at-home measures, Americans are feeling the financial, physical, and mental health effects of living in a coronavirus-infected world.

But in addition to practicing social distancing, there are several things you can do to remain healthy while minimizing the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 (or any illness).

1) Consult local, state, and federal guidelines and restrictions before traveling.

According to the CDC, “travel increases the chance of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.” And as COVID-19 cases continue to spike throughout the country, many experts are urging Americans to avoid holiday travel.

Many states are imposing new limitations on gathering sizes, extending mask mandates, and even issuing mandatory quarantine periods (or negative COVID-19 test) for people traveling from other states. If you or your loved ones are considering traveling internationally during the holidays, please be sure to make sure the country you are traveling to is granting entry to travelers from your point of origin.

2) Embrace video chat.

Technology can help us feel connected to our loved ones when we can’t be there in person—something that has proven to be essential for so many people this year.

Video calls have skyrocketed in popularity this year professionally and personally. Zoom did its part to bring people together safely by lifting their 40-minute limit on free meetings for Thanksgiving Day this year.

Consider using video chat services or avoiding in-person contact altogether through the holidays if you or a family member are at a high risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.

3) Do your holiday shopping online.

You may want to consider skipping the check-out lines this year and put your health first by shopping for gifts online.

Traditional brick and mortar stores will still be dangerous areas despite heightened cleaning measures. The CDC has listed “Going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving” as a higher-risk activity.

Due to the anticipated surge of online shoppers this season, many big-name retailers have announced changes to their traditional holiday sales such as online-only sales, online pick-up options, and more.

4) Wear a mask around others.

Studies continue to affirm the effectiveness of wearing a mask in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And both local and federal government branches have cited the importance of wearing a mask when around other people who do not live in your home. So if you find yourself going out in public or spending time with friends and family, consider wearing a mask to protect yourself and others.

5) Find the right health insurance coverage.

Modern medicine has yet to fully discover the long-term effects of COVID-19 but there are many health conditions scientists can already link to the virus.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “COVID-19 symptoms can sometimes persist for months. The virus can damage the lungs, heart and brain, which increases the risk of long-term health problems.”

Having health insurance coverage for you and your family can help cover the cost of both major and preventative medical care – and now is the best time to get coverage. The annual individual health Open Enrollment period began on November 1 and runs through December 15.

This is the only time of year to enroll in ACA-compliant health coverage unless you experience a Qualifying Life Event.

For more information on health insurance or to start shopping available plans, visit the individual health insurance page today.

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How We Help Members Through the Individual Health Insurance Open Enrollment Process

Shopping for something as important as health coverage can feel overwhelming—especially if you’re looking for a plan to help protect your whole family.

With the health insurance landscape changing every year, we know that it can be difficult to stay on top of which carriers and plans are available, so we do all that for you.

Tap Into Our Knowledgebase

By scheduling a 15-minute appointment with one of our licensed benefit counselors you’ll gain access to experts with vast industry insight—who are have studied state regulatory changes and are familiar with the latest available coverage options. Our counselors take the time to get to know your needs, concerns, and budget, to help find you the right plan, not just any plan.

Preparing for Your Appointment

After scheduling your appointment, you’ll want to gather the following information:

  • The basics: your address, phone number, date of birth, SSN, household size, income level
  • Plan and premium details for any employer-based plan available to you or your household
  • List of current medications
  • Name and zip code of the current healthcare providers that you’d like to continue using
  • Payment information

Having this information ready when your counselor calls will help them efficiently guide you toward the best coverage for your needs.

Taking the Next Step

This year’s Open Enrollment period is November 1 – December 15. If you enroll in an ACA-compliant health insurance plan during this period, the effective date will be January 1, 2021. This is the only time of year to receive ACA-compliant health insurance coverage, unless you were to experience a qualifying life event.

If you’re ready to see what the 2021 individual health insurance marketplace has to offer, we recommend scheduling an appointment with a licensed benefit counselor now. (Appointment availability becomes more limited beginning in the second half of November.)

For more information or to start shopping plans, visit the individual health insurance page today.

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