Being faced with surgery is no easy prospect. However, if your medical provider has told you that you must undergo surgery to improve your health, it’s important to take the time to review the benefits you may have to assist you financially during recovery. Some employees pay for their own private disability insurance, while others receive coverage through their employer.
You may be eligible for short-term disability benefits that will help cover your expenses until you're back on your feet. Enroll early, and confirm your coverage before your surgery.
Defining Short-Term Disability Plans
Employer-sponsored short-term disability is a voluntary cash plan that pays a percentage of your full-time salary for a specific amount of time, following the first week that you are unable to work. The plan's summary of benefits should provide a great deal of information and answer most of your questions. Private disability plans offer similar benefits.
Most employers will expect you to use your paid time off (PTO) first. Short-term disability will begin (if you are enrolled) shortly after, providing you with a weekly check that is a percentage of your regular earnings.
Short-term disability insurance is an option only some employers have. This type of insurance provides you with some income to cover expenses should you run out of PTO.
Some plans don’t start until 14 days post-event, so be sure to check with your employer's human resources (HR) department to confirm the coverage rules.
Check with your employer
Not all employers offer short-term disability insurance, so if you have access to this benefit, make sure you enroll in the plan during the open enrollment period.
Since it is hard to predict an injury or condition that may require a procedure, you should consider enrolling in a short-term disability plan long before considering having surgery.
If you are already employed, talk to your HR department and find out if there is a chance to enroll. If the opportunity has passed, you might consider a private insurance firm.
If you are starting a new job, be sure to inquire about short-term disability enrollment. If it is not offered, private coverage may be your only option.
After Confirming Your Coverage
Once you have confirmed your short-term disability coverage and have scheduled your surgery, inform your employer as soon as possible. This allows them to arrange for staffing coverage during your planned absence. Provide the HR department with a doctor’s note that indicates the estimated length of time you will need for recovery.
Work with your manager to make sure your leave has a smooth transition, as well as to arrange for any post-surgery accommodations you may need. Find out if your employer expects you to perform any work at home while recovering.
During the surgery, have a close friend or family member keep your HR department informed of your status. This will let them know if there is anything else they might need to do (in case there are complications stemming from your surgery).
The HR benefits administrator should be able to advise you on when your paid time off terminates and your short-term disability period begins. They should be able to tell you when the coverage period ends as well. The HR staff may not be able to tell you exactly how much each check will be, but your disability benefits provider might.
Managing Your Finances During Recovery
If at any time you are informed you have to be out for an additional length of time due to health problems or doctor’s orders, be sure to let your employer know immediately.
Your spouse or partner may be eligible for FMLA leave to care for you during the recovery period, so be sure they inform their employer of your surgery as well.
If you need to rely on savings to cover expenses during this time, you can inform any creditors and utility companies you have accounts with. They may be able to reduce or suspend monthly payments for a few months.
The most important part of this experience is to focus on your health and recovery so that you can return to work. The short-term disability payments will end once you resume work, but they can be a good source of income and allow for peace of mind during your recovery time.