Can Obesity Impact My Disability Insurance Claim?

May 5, 2020 | Blog |

Over the past decade, obesity rates have risen dramatically. Unfortunately, being overweight or obese can increase your risk for or worsen many other health conditions, including arthritis and heart disease. This has many disability insurance companies worried: how do they manage their costs as more and more claimants are filing obesity-related short-term and long-term disability claims?

Obesity Is Increasingly Common and Can Lead to Disability

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), more than one-third of American adults have a BMI (body mass index) of at least 30, which classifies them as obese. Doctors calculate your BMI based on your height and weight. The average male adult in the United States is 5’9” tall. If they weigh between 169 and 202 pounds, they’re considered overweight. Once they reach 203 pounds or more, they’re obese.

Bariatric physicians break down obesity into three additional categories:

  • Class 1: A BMI between 30 and 34
  • Class 2: A BMI between 35 and 39
  • Class 3: Sometimes referred to as “extreme obesity,” it involves a BMI of 40 or more

Morbid obesity is diagnosed when someone either has a BMI of 40 or more or a BMI of 35 and at least one serious weight-related health condition.

Here in Illinois, obesity rates are rising steadily. In 2012, 28% of our population was obese. By 2017, this number rose to 31.8%, and nearly 67% of the adults in our state are either obese or overweight.

Unfortunately, obesity is closely linked to many potentially disabling health conditions, including:

  • Coronary heart disease and high blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Arthritis, especially in the back, knees, and hips
  • Certain cancers, such as endometrial, esophageal, and kidney cancer
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • COPD
  • Depression and anxiety

While doctors aren’t sure why obesity increases our risk for diseases like cancer, they believe that too much body fat strains our systems and causes chronic inflammation.

What Causes Obesity?

Some people think obesity is a preventable “lifestyle choice,” but many factors can contribute to obesity and weight gain, and some of them are out of your control. While overeating and inactivity are a big part of our obesity epidemic, other factors include:

  • Physical conditions that limit your ability to move
  • Hormonal conditions, like Cushing syndrome and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Medications, especially steroids, seizure drugs, and antidepressants
  • Increased stress and anxiety
  • Poor or disrupted sleep

While shifting to a healthy diet and increasing your physical activity levels can help control obesity and other weight-related medical conditions, these steps may not do enough. And the obesity-related damage to your joints, heart, lungs, and other systems may be permanent.

At Bryant Legal Group, we encourage everyone to take their health seriously, exercise to the best of their abilities, and eat a nutrient-dense diet. However, we refuse to stigmatize people who live with obesity.

RELATED: Heart Disease and Long-Term Disability Insurance: A Claimant’s Guide

Can Disability Insurers Deny Coverage Because I’m Obese or Overweight?

In the past, some insurance companies refused to cover individuals who were obese or overweight. However, as obesity became more common, insurers started to take a more nuanced approach, mainly because they don’t want to lose a huge portion of their potential customers.

When you apply for a private disability insurance policy, you typically will have to undergo a medical examination and answer questions about your weight and overall health. If you are obese but otherwise healthy, it’s likely that you’ll get coverage. However, you may have to pay higher premiums.

If you have numerous pre-existing conditions and are obese, it may be harder to get disability insurance. Some insurance companies may consider you too high a risk to receive coverage. However, if you can lose some of your weight and maintain this weight loss, most insurance companies will reconsider your application.

It’s also important that you don’t lie or omit information from your private disability insurance application. If the insurance company discovers that you provide inaccurate information, they may cancel your coverage and deny your short-term or long-term disability benefits, even if you’ve been consistently paying your premiums.

RELATED: 5 FAQs About Private Disability Insurance Claims

Disability Insurance Claims for Obesity Are Also on the Rise

Obesity in itself is not a disability; many people with BMIs over 30 live long and productive lives. However, obesity-related health problems can make it impossible to work. Research suggests that obese people have higher rates of absenteeism and are more likely to file for disability insurance benefits than thinner individuals.

It’s no surprise that with obesity rates soaring, disability insurance claims are rising too, especially claims for short-term benefits. According to Cigna, short-term disability claims related to obesity increased by 3,300% over the last 20 years. To help control their costs, many insurance companies are denying valid obesity-related claims.

When you file for disability insurance benefits, you will need to build a strong case that outlines your health problems and proves how they impact your ability to work. To do this, you must collect convincing evidence, including medical records.

For example, you may need to provide the insurance company with:

  • MRIs and CT scans that show severe arthritis or degeneration in your back, knees, and other joints
  • Evidence of diabetic complications, such as diabetic neuropathy or retinopathy
  • Hospital and surgical records, including bariatric procedures
  • Sleep and breathing studies
  • Electrocardiograms (EKGs), stress tests, and other heart testing
  • Mental health records and therapy notes
  • Detailed work restrictions from your doctors and medical team
  • Assessments from vocational experts

Working with an experienced short-term and long-term disability lawyer is essential to this process. An attorney can help you understand your disability insurance policy’s terms and conditions and then build your case for getting benefits.

Talk to Your Doctor About Your Obesity-Related Issues

It can be hard to talk to your doctor about weight issues and obesity. The social stigma around obesity makes it difficult for people to talk openly about their bodies, and if you’re overweight, you’ve probably heard more than one lecture or comment from a doctor or nurse already. However, it’s important to seek treatment and document your problems.

When you apply for disability insurance benefits, the insurance company and the courts will rely heavily on your medical records. If you tough out your joint pain and ignore your shortness of breath, there will be no documentation for these issues, and the insurance company may be able to successfully argue that your disabling issues are not as serious as you claim.

It’s best to be proactive and talk to your doctors. And if you’re not sure how to start the conversation about your weight, health, and ability to work, give us a call. We’re here to help.

RELATED: How to Talk to Your Doctor About Disability

Bryant Legal Group: Practical, Results-Driven Disability Lawyers

Bryant Legal Group is one of Illinois’ most respected disability insurance law firms. Our attorneys have decades of experience and have recovered millions for our disabled clients. We take a practical approach that focuses on results and our clients’ specific needs.

If you have questions about a disability insurance claim, contact us today. You can either call us at (312) 561-3010 or complete our online contact form to schedule your free, no-risk initial consultation.

Resources

Disability and obesity. (2019, September 6). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/obesity.html

Trust for America’s Health (2019, September). The state of obesity: Better policies for a healthier America 2019. Retrieved from https://www.tfah.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/2019ObesityReportFINAL-1.pdf

What causes obesity & overweight? (2016, December 1). Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Retrieved from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/obesity/conditioninfo/cause

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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