After a prolonged argument with my employer, they finally did the right thing and put me LTD. It’s weird that working and being employed is a sort of after thought nowadays.
A Little Background
I’d been on short term disability leave since my diagnosis back in July of 2020 and I’d been receiving 60% of my base pay during this time. Never mind that a large part of my pay were my commissions from sales, but I was happy to at least be getting something. When you’re on Short Term Disability Leave, you use your personal days first, then you start using “protected” days that are covered by FMLA leave.
As you may or may not know, eventually, you run out of FMLA days that you can use for the short term leave. At that point, depending on your employer, you’re either straight out of luck and if you can’t go back to work you lose your job, or, you can go on Long Term Disability, or a Medical Leave of Absence.
The main difference between LTD and MLOA, is that MLOA essentially guarantees that you’ll have your job back but there’s no pay, whilst the LTD is the equivalent of a separation of employment but you can still get up to 50% of your base pay, depending on what your particular LTD policy says. You may also be entitled to additional benefits under LTD like continuing to pay the employee price for health insurance etc., depending on your policy and your employer of course.
In either case, depending on your employer, if you are not able to return to work, and you’re beyond the FMLA protected days limit, you get to either leave the company or go on one of the above options. In any of the scenarios, you will most likely have changes to your insurance coverage, your benefits, your pay etc.
In some cases, such as my own, your company may not even manage the disability leave. Instead, a third party insurance company that your employer contracts with, and to whom you (unbeknownst to you?) pay your LTD premiums to, will be the entity that manages all of the disability paperwork etc. for your employer.
So What Happened To You Raf?
Because of what I’m going to call skullduggery, when I reached the point of having to decide between MLOA, LTD or separation of employment, I was put on unpaid medical leave of absence. As part of the unpaid MLOA, I was told that I had the option of continuing my insurance coverage through COBRA, at almost $1000 a month, and I could continue paying for my infusion co-pays out of pocket etc.
Now, logically, unpaid medical leave means that I have no income.
By the time you run out of the protected FMLA days, you’ve already incurred substantial costs from your co-pays etc. which likely would have either eaten all or most of your savings or monthly income.
For example, every chemotherapy infusion session costs around $28,000, yes, you read that right. My out of pocket cost per infusion was around $1500. Every 2 weeks, so $3000 a month for chemotherapy infusions. Clearly untenable on $0 income, after you’ve already depleted your meager savings on hospital, chemotherapy, and other medical co-pays.
I don’t understand how it makes sense to have someone that is unable to work on a unpaid medical leave and cancel their health insurance as part of the process.
How does that make any sense?
What Was The Solution?
Since I wasn’t getting paid, and I’m technically disabled I applied for SSDI and thank goodness, was eventually approved. It’s less money than I was getting while on STD, but something is better than nothing.
Because they dropped me from the health insurance plan, I was able to get on my wife’s plan and continue coverage through her plan. BTW, instead of paying $1500 per infusion, I now only have a $40 co-pay under her policy. How cool is that?
I kept arguing with the LTD insurance company about why they put me on the unpaid leave instead of the LTD, which would have guaranteed me 50% of my base pay, and they basically passed the buck to my employer. When I called my employer to complain, they passed the buck to the insurance company.
Eventually, I reached a sympathetic ear at my employer. I explained that my prognosis/ condition is deteriorating. My tumors are continuing to grow, even with the chemo, and really we are both running out of time and running out of options and could they please put me on LTD. To my surprise, they acquiesed and changed my status to LTD.
Since I’m on LTD, I get to pay the employee rate for my health insurance coverage, but since I’m on my wife’s policy, I don’t need that option. They also send me a check monthly to make up the difference between what SSDI pays and what 50% of my pay would be.
So It’s A Happy Ending, Right?
Well, not quite.
If I’m honest, I’m still not sure what being on LTD means. I know that my position is not guaranteed, and that some of my benefits will change, but I’m still not sure which ones. I get a discount on my cell phone and a discount on the TV services that I get from them.
TV, is surprisingly important when you have cancer. When you’re in bed, or on the couch, you need something to take your mind off the pain. Sitting in my office chair blogging, actually hurts a bit, so I can’t do it for prolonged periods.
The other deal is that my lizard brain is like “you’re the man, you should provide” and all that sort of thing. I’ve always been independent and I’ve always been able to work and generate my own income to pay my bills etc. I’ve always been able to take care of family, and not depend on anyone, but cancer took that from me.