How does STD Insurance work?

Group versus Individual Coverage

Some people have Short-Term Disability (STD) insurance through an employer, union, or other professional organization. This type of policy is known as group coverage. You can also purchase individual coverage directly from an insurance company or agent.

The General Design of an STD Policy

Most STD policies have the same general design. You, or your employer, pay a monthly premium to be covered. When an illness or injury prevents you from working, you apply for a benefit by speaking with your Human Resources representative or your insurance agent. Most STD policies require a document from your doctor that explains your condition and estimates how long you’ll be gone from your job. There will probably be a waiting period between the date you leave work and the date when you actually receive your benefits. Many policies also require you to use some or all of your sick days before the policy begins to pay. Once the waiting period is over, you will generally receive a set percentage of the wages you received before you were disabled. For example, if you were paid $500 per week, and your policy pays 50% of pre-disability earnings, you’ll get a benefit of $250 per week. Short-term policies generally last between 9 weeks and 52 weeks, after which time your benefit will end. You may then have the option of moving to a Long-Term Disability policy or applying for Social Security Disability Insurance.

Differences Between Policies

While all STD policies share these general features, each has different specifics.

  • Definition of Disability: Some STD policies define a disability in terms of an inability to work at your own job. These are known as “own occupation” definitions of disability. Other policies define disability as an inability to work in any job, known as an “any occupation” definition. Generally, policies with the “any occupation” definition are cheaper.
  • Service Wait: Some employers will only offer STD policies after you’ve worked for them for a set period of time, for example, one year. Some policies also pay higher benefits for people who have worked for longer periods. Also known as a minimum service requirement.
  • Waiting Period: Waiting periods can be up to 180 days. Generally, policies with longer waiting periods are cheaper. Many plans have different waiting periods for different types of disabilities. For example, a plan may have a 7 day waiting period for illnesses and no waiting period for accidents.
  • Benefit Rates: Benefit rates vary, but are generally between 40% and 70% of your pre-disability earnings. You will probably pay a higher premium for a higher rate. Some policies also change rates during the benefit period. For example, your policy may pay 80% for the first three weeks of disability and then 50% for the remainder of your benefit period.
  • Partial Disability: Some plans allow you to return to work part-time while continuing your benefits. This is usually referred to as a “residual” or “loss of earnings” benefit. For example, if you worked 8 hours per day before your disability, and you are able to return to work 4 hours a day, the STD policy may replace some of your income for the remaining 4 hours.
  • Benefit Periods: Policies may allow you to return to work on a trial basis. For example, your policy may give you a two week trial period. If you go back to work for less than two weeks and then find that you can’t do your job because of your disability, the policy would allow you to continue your benefits as if you hadn’t returned to work. If you are able to stay at work for more than those 2 weeks, and then you find that the same disability prevents you from doing your job, you may have to re-apply and go through another waiting period, or, you may no longer be eligible to receive a benefit based on that disability.
  • Transition to Long-Term Disability Insurance: Some STD plans automatically transition to an LTD plan if you are still disabled after the benefit period ends.
  • Changes to your premium: If you sign up for a “non-cancelable” policy, the insurance company cannot change your premiums or benefits. If you sign up for a “guaranteed renewable” policy, the company is allowed to change your premiums, but only if they are changing it for an entire group of policyholders.
  • Exceptions: Many policies will not cover disabilities caused by suicide attempts, drug abuse, war, or attempts to commit a crime. Pre-existing conditions are also frequently excluded (see below). On-the-job injuries, which are covered by workers’ compensation insurance, are also not covered.