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Life Health > Life Insurance

Disability Insurance Observer: Inception

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Life Happens — the organization formerly known as the LIFE Foundation — will be organizing another great Disability Insurance Awareness Month campaign in May.

The Council for Disability Awareness (CDA) will do its part to supply statistics illustrating how common disability is and why workers need to protect their incomes.

Agents and brokers will go out and try to beat the bushes for the uninsured, the underinsured, and people who respond with a blank look when asked about their income protection arrangements. Anyone who feels the force of that campaign will probably wonder what all the fuss is about.

Of course, some people figure out how to budget for income protection. Some, sadly, don’t, or truly can’t. But we all know we should do that. Right?

No. Absolutely not. Not at all. I went into reporting, rather than sales, because I seem to have a personality that sucks product interest out of the universe rather than adding to it. When I try to tell people things such as, “You know, you could try saving money for retirement by buying a target-date retirement fund,” or, “You know, if you can, it’s a great idea to insure your income,” they look at me as if I’d recommended that they trade in their cars for magic carpets.

If I tried to tell the people around me, “You know, lean turkey is actually healthier than pure arsenic,” they would assume I was trying to get them to eat some kind of crazy health food poison. My utter failure as a positive influencer has hit me three times in my life.

Once was when a self-employed relative fell off a ladder, suffered a head injury, enjoyed a nearly miraculous recovery from a coma, but emerged with problems that interfered with his ability to work — and no income protection insurance, even though his uncle-in-law helped invent the concept of association life and disability insurance.

Another came when a friend with a flower shop found that a combination of Hurricane Sandy stress and arthritis in his knees made continuing to run the flower shop next to impossible. Because he was self-employed, he wasn’t contributing to Social Security on his behalf and, as far as I know, probably wasn’t eligible for Social Security disability benefits. But he was hoping he could get benefits from Social Security, or the state, or someone, because he couldn’t work. He thought the universe should do something about that.

The third intensely educational experience came when a close, 50-something relative who is a mountain climber, scuba dives, and thinks “Thou shalt jaywalk” is one of the Ten Commandments leaned over (because I’m short), looked me in the eye, and informed me, “You know, people my age can develop health problems. There ought to be something we can do in case we can’t work.”

Uh… yeah.

On the one hand, I guess the moral here is that people have hard heads and are scared of being flim flammed. They think that many of the other people around them are swindlers or idiots. And, of course, there are disability insurance policies that are poorly designed, or poorly explained, or poorly administered and just don’t work very well.

But, on the other hand, in my own personal experience, I know that three people who seemed active and employable to me were living off of disability benefits, and two of the three were working more or less full time on their own off-the-books projects.

On the third hand, maybe what Life Happens and CDA should figure out is not so much how to communicate the message that protecting income is important, but creating the conditions that lead indirectly to people deciding for themselves that, goshdarnit, there ought to be a way for people to insure their incomes, and to wonder why The Man (whoever The Man is) has not made that possible.

Maybe, once that inception takes place, insurers and producers could gently communicate the idea that, “Oh, yes! There is actually a way for people to do that.” 

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