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The Best Short Term Disability Insurance
The 5 best short-term disability providers
What is short-term disability insurance?
Think of short-term disability insurance as a safety net to help pay the bills should you find yourself temporarily unable to work due to an injury or illness.
Although some Americans get short-term disability coverage through their employers, these lucky people are in the minority.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 42% of private-sector workers and 26% of state and municipal employees have short-term disability coverage. This is troubling news when you consider how even a minor disability could leave you unable to pay your bills for weeks or even months while you mend.
If you are one of the millions of Americans with no emergency disability funding in place, consider applying for a policy with the five best individual short-term disability insurance providers. We’ve based our selections on company financials, National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) rankings, claims histories, and insights from several industry experts.
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What is individual short-term disability coverage?
Individual short-term disability insurance provides a source of income if you become partially disabled due to an accident or sickness and are unable to work. Because it’s portable, coverage is not tied to your employer.
What does individual short-term disability cover?
- Short-term disability helps replace wages lost because of illness or injury.
- Most non-work-related injuries are covered.
- Illnesses can include cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or a stroke.
- Injuries can include back trauma, joint disorders, and arthritis.
We’ve based our selections on company financials, National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) rankings, claims histories, and insights from several industry experts. All five of our top short-term disability providers offer impressive NAIC complaint ratios as well strong financial rankings.
|Mutual of Omaha||0.25||A+||AA-||N/A|
*Ratings effective 12/5/19. NAIC’s national-average benchmark complaint ratio is 1.0.
Aflac: Best overall short-term disability provider
Thanks to its “ducky” marketing efforts, Aflac is one of the most recognized insurance providers in the country. However, according to Nick Ortiz, a Florida-based attorney specializing in disability claims, the company deserves special recognition for its short-term disability coverage.
“Coverage is easy to obtain with Aflac,” he says. “And their claims process is also fast and easy.”
Indeed, TermLife2Go’s research supports Ortiz’s enthusiasm for Aflac’s disability coverage. Although the NAIC received a small percentage of complaints regarding disability claims, the company enjoys an overall solid reputation for treating claimants fair.
Even if Aflac initially rejects a claim, the company will work with claimants to identify the necessary documentation—such as Xrays and MRIs—needed to confirm a disability.
But frictionless claims processing is only one reason we give Aflac a thumbs up. Consider these other perks:
- Applicants can sign up on online and most can qualify without a medical exam.
- Once approved, the policy is renewable up to age 75.
- Some policyholders can earn an additional $1,000 in coverage every five years.
- Aflac’s SmartClaim℠ services pays same-day claims if filed before 3 p.m. ET Monday-Friday.
Aflac received an “A-” ranking from both A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s, while Fitch awarded the company an “A,” all indicative of a company with a solid financial footing.
Like most providers, Aflac disability coverage tops out at 24 months. On the downside, Aflac offers only two policy riders. (“Riders” are policy add-ons that enhance coverage to meet specific needs. Several other providers included on our list offer more comprehensive rider menus beyond Aflac’s two.)
- Easy to qualify
- Fast, easy claims
- Strong financials
- Some NAIC complaints
- Documentation may be needed
- Limited riders
Cigna: Most “proactive”
Cigna earns big points for educating consumers about being proactive in managing their health and lifestyle and taking preventative steps to reduce short-term disability needs.
Cigna does this by offering policyholders an array of online “Living healthy” content encouraging them to exercise, eat right, and make other lifestyle choices. This focus on healthy choices helps Cigna manage costs which can be passed on to consumers in the form of lower premiums.
Cigna’s website offers a disability-income needs calculator, so you can pinpoint your coverage needs. You can also sign up for the coverage online (or by using Cigna’s app). These same resources can be used to find doctors, submit claims, and track your claim’s status.
- “Living healthy” content
- Expedited claims
- No NAIC complaints
- Limited financials
- Documentation may be needed
- Limited policy riders
Mutual of Omaha: Best policy selection
Mutual of Omaha offers a variety of short-term disability options including simplified disability, accident-only coverage, and various short- and long-term options. Although many of the company’s plans offer limited benefits (maximum coverage is $5,000 and the longest benefit period lasts 24 months), you can enhance coverage if you’re willing to spring for riders.
Riders can be costly, but they can help you customize your coverage to better suit your unique needs. For instance, one rider pays lump sums if certain critical illnesses are detected. Or, you can purchase a rider that provides an additional $500 each day if you are confined to a hospital (however, this caps out at 45 days). Another rider enables a policyholder to earn cash back if the policy is in place for 10 years.
- Multiple policy choices
- Strong financial rankings
- A variety of riders
- Basic coverage offers limited benefits
- Riders can be costly
- Small percentage of NAIC complaints
Guardian: Strongest financial standing
To enhance its standard individual short-term disability coverage, Guardian offers a variety of policies that may appeal to entrepreneurs. For instance, it extends special disability coverage to business owners and even offers Key Person coverage. This coverage helps small business owners sleep at night knowing protection is in place should a VIP become disabled.
Small business owners may also appreciate the fact that Guardian has been in operation for more than 155 years and that—YoY—its financials are in good standing. However, policyholders should know the Guardian claims process can be slow compared to other providers. Routine claims (hernia, appendicitis, etc.) take about four days to process, and more advanced claims can take up to seven days to process.
- Strong financials
- Entrepreneur focused
- No NAIC complaints
- Costly riders
- Slow claims
- May need documentation
The Standard: Most uncommon riders menu
The Standard offers conditional coverage up to age 67 with exclusive riders such as offering indexed cost-of-living coverage or student-loan payment coverage (for certain occupations only). Some policies can also be extended to cover family members who contract serious illnesses.
However, most of The Standard’s insurance business is employer-focused. (Approximately, 30,000 companies in the US offer employee coverage through the Standard.) As a result, the company’s individual policy menu (including its short-term disability coverage) is limited and it may require some digging to get an accurate individual short-term disability quote or process a claim using the company website.
- Unique riders
- Long-term coverage available
- Family care available
- Some NAIC complaints
- Clunky website
- Limited financials
Short-term disability runners up
Still unsure? Want to explore other short-term disability insurance providers? You can check out our list of the 10 best individual disability providers. Or look at the following companies that caught our eye.
Several sources identified MetLife as a top provider in the individual disability space; however, as of March 2017, MetLife no longer offers individual coverage. But if your employer offers MetLife disability, consider signing up.
Ohio National may not have the name recognition some other providers enjoy, but the company is a standout when it comes to disability coverage for small business owners. For instance, its ContinuON Income Solution offers entrepreneurs noncancelable, disability insurance specifically designed to cover business-related costs. Ohio National also offers a Business Buy-Sell feature that provides funding to transfer ownership if one co-owner becomes disabled.
If you are a high-income earner, consider MassMutual’s short-term disability coverage. The company offers an exclusive Radius Executive Select Program, which is aimed at high-income executives. It cannot be cancelled and is fully portable. To qualify, you must earn a minimum of $800,000 annually. If you qualify, the policy pays you up to $50,000 tax free.
Still stumped about which short-term disability provider is right for you? Check out our answers to some commonly asked short-term disability questions to help you decide.
Do I need short-term disability insurance?
“All workers—blue collar and white collar—should purchase short-term disability insurance,” says attorney Nick Ortiz.
Whether you do manual labor, such as piloting a boat or construction work, or whether you are a doctor or a lawyer, missing work for an extended period can lead to financial ruin. Short-term disability insurance can reduce your financial risk.
What does short-term disability cover?
Short-term disability insurance offers benefits if you are partially disabled due to an accident or sickness. Simply put, it helps you keep money coming in as you earn an income while you recover. Generally, most policies cover ailments such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke. Work and nonwork related injuries such as back trauma, joint disorders, arthritis, and digestive issues are also typically covered.
However, as is often the case with insurance, details matter.
For instance, the length of the benefit period varies. Standard benefit periods last 3, 6, 9, 12, 18 or 24 months. Generally, you should select a provider’s longest benefit period available to ensure maximum coverage.
Does short-term disability cover a pregnancy?
Generally, complications due to pregnancy are covered by most short-term disability policies.
However, Kevin Haney, president of Growing Family Benefits, says to ensure a plan covers a pregnancy and maternity leave, the policy must be purchased before becoming pregnant, otherwise, it will be treated as a preexisting condition.
In most cases, he says, employer-sponsored plans offer better family-planning benefits.
“Individual policies bought outside of employers do not pay for mom’s normal recovery from childbirth, but they may cover medical complications of pregnancy that cause lost income before her delivery,” he says.
What illnesses qualify for short-term disability coverage?
Sa El, a licensed agent, and co-founder of Simply Insurance, says illness coverage varies widely from one provider to the next and from one policy to the next. He suggests scrutinizing fine print to determine what qualifies.
“Most people don't understand that sickness causes the highest amount of disability, not accidents. If you get disabled due to sickness, no money will be coming in because you aren't working,” says El.
Additionally, he adds, if there is a history of serious illness in your family, consider adding an accelerated death benefit rider to your life insurance policy to help offset the heavy costs of treating a serious, potentially fatal illness.
Which short-term disability policy feature is best?
Look for a short “elimination” period, which is the period a company waits before sending you a check for your disability. A 7-day waiting period is standard, but some companies may have elimination periods that can last up to 90 days or more. The longer the elimination period, the longer you go without income.
Which short-term disability features are “nice to have”?
Look for policies that pay 100% of your pre-disability earnings, rather than the standard 60%.
You can also find policies that waive the policy’s premium while you’re on the mend.
Also, be on the lookout for a policy that offers compensation beyond a base wage. This is especially important if you are in sales, for instance, and count on commissions to pay your bills.
How do I get short-term disability insurance?
To participate in a group plan, you typically only need to work for a company offering group coverage.
To purchase individual short-term disability, you should contact an agent or broker and complete the application process. Some insurance companies will require you to complete a medical exam (which could result in being declined coverage). If you have preexisting conditions, ask your employer if they offer a group plan.
How much does short-term disability pay?
Most providers pay 60% of the pre-disability wage. However, some policies do offer a higher percentage. Conversely, some providers may pay to replace only 40%–50% of your pre-disability wage, so be sure to find a policy that can keep you and your dependents afloat in case of an accident or illness.
Also, keep in mind, many policies pay a reduced benefit if you are collecting from other income sources, such as Social Security disability benefits and/or workers compensation.
So, make sure there is a “minimum benefit” provision to help protect you. A minimum benefit provision pays you a flat amount regardless of Social Security and other income sources.
What is supplemental short-term disability?
Supplemental short-term disability coverage goes above and beyond traditional disability policies, serving as an enhancement to both individual and group policies. For instance, if your normal disability coverage ends at 24 months, a supplemental policy can be purchased to ensure an income source for another year or more. And, because pregnancy coverage varies from one disability provider to the next, a supplemental plan can be purchased to help cover costs associated with childbirth—including complications or extended maternity leave.
It’s also worth noting that the top provider on our list—Aflac—is the country’s leading provider of supplemental short-term disability insurance.
With that advice in mind, we encourage you to speak to a licensed agent to determine the right short-term disability policy for you. Give us a call today.