As of April 12, 2020, there have been more than 20,800 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois, with over 8,500 of those cases occurring in Chicago. Thankfully, in our state, only 3% of people diagnosed with COVID-19 have died from the disease or complications. However, many survivors continue to face ongoing health issues related to the disease.
We’re learning more about the novel coronavirus every day. It’s becoming clear that the virus can damage many of our body’s organs, not just the lungs, and the effects may be permanent. This naturally leads to the question: Can I get long-term disability benefits for coronavirus complications? In this blog, we’ll discuss when coronavirus may lead to a long-term disability claim.
Coronavirus Can Cause Permanent Lung Damage
Studies from China, where the virus was first discovered, suggest that coronavirus frequently causes long-term damage to survivors’ lungs. According to the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, up to 25% of their “fully recovered” survivors had decreased lung function. Some recovered patients experienced 20–30% less capacity in their lungs and became short of breath during a brisk walk. While survivors may be able to regain some of their lung strength through rehabilitation and physical therapy, it will take time.
Some survivors’ CT scans show lung damage that doctors have described as looking “like frosted glass.” Since the coronavirus is a new phenomenon, we don’t know what these lung-tissue changes mean for the long term. However, SARS, which is caused by a different coronavirus, causes lung problems in about one-third of survivors, and it takes many of them up to 15 years to heal. A similar number of people suffer lung scarring or fibrosis from MERS (another coronavirus), and this damage is often permanent.
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COVID-19 Attacks More Than Your Lungs
Most of us think of coronavirus as a lung disease that can cause acute respiratory distress and lead to intensive care and a ventilator. However, doctors now believe that the virus can also damage your heart, brain, kidneys, liver, and other organs, although they aren’t sure why. Theories include:
- Low oxygen levels, sometimes called hypoxia, can harm your organs
- COVID-19 causes widespread swelling or inflammation that puts extra stress on your body
- The virus may actively attack organs like your brain and heart
As time passes and scientists and doctors collect more information about COVID-19, we’ll know much more about the long-term effects. However, we’re already starting to understand some basics, and older studies about severe pneumonia are also giving us some insight.
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Heart Damage and Coronavirus
During this global pandemic, doctors have documented a large number of COVID-19 patients who develop heart problems. According to one study, at least one in five survivors has coronavirus-related heart damage. Right now, we don’t know exactly why people with the virus experience heart damage, although researchers are working hard to identify the causes.
However, we do know that people with pre-existing issues are more likely to develop coronavirus-related heart problems, and some of them will even go into cardiac arrest. Coronavirus-related heart problems will likely continue for years after the patients recover. According to a study of severe pneumonia survivors, patients carry an increased risk of heart disease for roughly 10 years. So, we may see increased heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiac problems in coronavirus survivors for years to come.
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Post-Intensive Care Syndrome Is Common in Coronavirus Survivors
In addition to organ damage, simply being on a ventilator for an extended period poses its own challenges. Between 25% and 75% of ICU patients experience post-intensive care syndrome (PICS). This condition is caused by a variety of factors, including the physical and emotional stress and trauma of being in the ICU and the side effects from sedatives and other medications. Symptoms of post-intensive care syndrome can include:
- Memory problems
- Poor attention and concentration
- Trouble thinking clearly
- Poor decision-making
- Problems with communication and speech
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Depression and anxiety
- Decreased motivation
- Muscle weakness
- Fatigue and insomnia
- Difficulties with walking and moving your body
- Shortness of breath
These issues may persist for months or even years. The longer you are on a ventilator in the ICU, the higher your risk is for PICS. Unfortunately, coronavirus patients sometimes stay sedated and on a ventilator for two weeks or more.
You May Be Eligible for LTD for Coronavirus Complications
Many coronavirus survivors will be initially eligible for short-term disability benefits due to their illness. However, short-term benefits only provide financial support for a limited time, often six months. If you have long-term disability (LTD) coverage and cannot work, you need to consider filing an LTD claim.
Under most long-term disability policies, you must prove you cannot work due to an illness or injury for at least 12 months. Depending on the terms and conditions of your policy, you may need to either show that you cannot perform your own occupation or that you can’t perform any occupation within the national economy. It’s likely that some COVID-19 survivors will meet these standards.
However, when you’re dealing with a brand-new disease, there’s a lot of unsettled science. Insurance companies will probably deny many coronavirus-related LTD claims, arguing that the survivor’s reports of fatigue, shortness of breath, and other symptoms are overblown. Or, the insurer may terminate benefits later on, arguing that your symptoms should have resolved already. These arguments may be wrong, but you’ll need strong evidence to fight back.
Under these circumstances, it’s best to work with an experienced and knowledgeable disability insurance lawyer who can properly assess your medical records, educate the insurance company about your condition, and fight on your behalf.
Bryant Legal Group: Fighting for COVID-19 Survivors and Their Families
Bryant Legal Group is one of Illinois’ preeminent disability insurance law firms. We focus our practice solely on insurance and ERISA issues, and our team has extensive experience handling cases with complex medical and legal issues. If you or a loved one is still struggling after a coronavirus diagnosis, we can explain your legal options and help you get the disability benefits you deserve.
If you have questions about a disability insurance claim, contact us today. You can either call us at (312) 561-3010 or complete our quick online form to schedule a no-risk consultation. Please note that during the coronavirus pandemic, we are encouraging appointments by videoconferencing or phone.