March 10

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Addressing The Troubling Trend Of Rising Disability Claims In Canada

Over the last few years, a troubling industry trend has become clear – more Canadians are going on disability.

This is an alarming widespread trend that isn’t siloed to one geographical area, age group, or work sector. There has been a spike in disability claims across the country, with more Canadians going on disability leave and staying on it longer.

The way we define disability claims has contributed to this spike  

One in six Canadians will be disabled for three months or more before the age of 50.

While this article points to several eye-opening statistics, the harsh reality of disability claims is that so many people have to keep working through a disability while worrying about paying for their daily living expenses. For a long time, dealing with mental illnesses meant that many people – including insurance companies – saw this as an invisible condition, making it hard to quantify and connect the dots when dealing with claims. Employees had many challenges to file a workplace disability claim because of a mental health issue. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean someone isn’t struggling.

According to an article from Global News, “when dealing with problems like depression or anxiety, the medical evidence is far less straightforward than an MRI or a blood test.”

All that has changed ever since we have stretched the overall definition of what being healthy actually means to Canadians to cover their mental well-being. And that’s why we see a tsunami of mental health disability claims as we come to the other side of this global crisis and likely even more moving forward.

Mental Health disability claims are on the rise among Canadians

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, mental health now accounts for 70% of total disability costs, with one in three workplace disability claims in Canada relating to mental illness. And more than eight in 10 employees have said their mental health has worsened during the pandemic. Those are staggering numbers!

Mental health issues are the most common cause of long-term disability, by an incredible margin, with no slowdown in sight. It’s only a matter of time until we see an increase in claims, let alone an increase in rate hikes for long-term disability to account for those impacted by the pandemic.

Without any safety nets, many Canadians are left exposed

A recent study found that 67% of working Canadians said if they suffered a disability that meant not working for three months, they would encounter serious financial implications.

With half the working population operating without disability coverage, many Canadians are exposed to severe financial risk. Whether they need to take time off to recover from a disability or are forced to go back to work sooner than desired because of economic reasons, it leaves them vulnerable and susceptible to never truly managing and healthily dealing with their issue. When you pair that with unemployment numbers surging and without guaranteed paid sick leave, it shows just how many Canadians are left without a safety net with a long way down when they fall.

Why are we seeing an increase in disability claims in general?

The last year has forced us to have pandemic tunnel vision, completely forgetting that many of us were – and still to be diagnosed – statistically with major illnesses that didn’t just go away because hospitals were overrun with COVID patients.

Everything from an aging workforce, deteriorating mental health, a reduced workforce, and lack of physical activity have contributed to an increase in disability claims. Still, the real answer to the question above is that they all impact disability in their respect.

With 10% of COVID patients dealing with lingering health effects, we haven’t even begun to grasp how to properly deal with these future spikes in claims. It is reported that Canada isn’t adequately prepared to handle disability claims for folks coping with long-term conditions such as neurological problems, pulmonary fibrosis, inflammation of the heart, and renal insufficiency. In a way, this is bringing to light the need to better care and support for our citizens in the wake of everything we just went through. 

Understanding the root of rising claims – and doing something about it

It’s important to remember that the costs are rising because more and more Canadians are going on disability leave.

Claims are not being resolved at the same pace as new claims are being added. This is resulting in people remaining on disability leave for longer. As more Canadians go on disability leave throughout the pandemic, many will struggle to make ends meet because of the financial fallout if we don’t have the framework to support them and stabilize them.

Getting to the root of this spike in disability claims to not just to have more engaged and productive employees – but to have a healthy, resilient and capable society. Employers can play a proactive role in teaching and encouraging healthy coping skills, turning to telemedicine for medical support, and recognizing that an employee’s psychological safety is paramount at this juncture in our lives. And suppose we don’t actively play a role in helping with our friends, colleagues, and family members’ mental well-being. In that case, it will be a slippery slope painting a very scary reality that moves beyond all the statistics we have already become numb to.

About the author 

Chris Gory

Chris Gory is the founder of Orchard Benefits (formerly Insurance Portfolio Financial Services Inc.), a brokerage launched in 1999 that helps companies build the best benefits programs for their employees. Chris is passionate about helping entrepreneurs, and works with over 60 startup companies including Wattpad, 500px, and VarageSale. He is an advisor at the Ryerson Digital Media Zone and at the OneEleven startup hub, and he's led talks about employee benefits and insurance at several startup accelerators including Extreme Startups. Chris has also been featured in the Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail, and he's been a member of the Board of Directors of the Applied Client Network, an international association of independent insurance professionals, since 2012.


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