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

Sep 16, 2021 | Blog |

Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are often considered “invisible disabilities,” but they can have a profound effect on your life. It can be impossible to work when you need unscheduled restroom breaks and live with chronic pain— not to mention the stress of living with other effects of the disease, like malnutrition and other serious symptoms.

If you have Crohn’s disease and are considering filing for long-term disability insurance benefits, the attorneys at Bryant Legal Group want to help. We guide professionals throughout Chicago, Illinois, and the rest of the country through their complex disability insurance claims.

In this article, we explore long-term disability claims involving Crohn’s disease and suggest ways you can strengthen your case from day one.

What Is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease is a type of chronic inflammatory bowel disease. About three million people in the United States live with Crohn’s disease. The disease causes your immune system to overreact, attacking healthy tissues in your gastrointestinal tract—including your small bowel (ileum) and colon. Often, the disease affects the entire thickness of the bowel wall, causing severe pain and cramping.

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include:

  • Diarrhea and bowel urgency
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Bloody stools and rectal bleeding
  • Strictures, or narrowing of your intestine
  • Fistulas, or ulcers that go through the entire bowel wall
  • Fissures
  • Mouth sores
  • Swollen, painful joints

For some people, it is a relatively minor inconvenience, with occasional pain and cramping, fatigue, and diarrhea. For others, the disease profoundly affects their lives, causing malnutrition, anemia, and bowel obstructions.

How Do You Treat Crohn’s Disease?

Currently, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease. And, because people with the disease can have very different symptoms, there is not a standard treatment protocol. Instead, your doctor and gastroenterologist will build a treatment plan that targets your specific issues and symptoms.

Depending on your circumstances, your treatment plan might include medications, surgeries, and dietary changes. Some treatment options, especially biologic therapies, require regular visits to a medical center for infusions. Others, especially some immunomodulators, can result in serious side effects, like nausea, vomiting, and even liver damage.

What Is the Difference Between Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is another form of IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). Unlike Crohn’s disease, it affects only a limited amount of the gastrointestinal tract, typically the colon and rectum, and harms only the inner lining of your intestines.

Bloody stools, fatigue, abdominal pain, and bowel urgency are common symptoms of ulcerative colitis. While Crohn’s disease might skip areas of your GI tract, UC causes a more continuous inflammation and does not skip.

Working With Crohn’s Disease

Working with Crohn’s disease can be tricky, especially if you are prone to flares. According to a Journal of Medical Economics study, the average Crohn’s patient misses about 9.5 days each year, due to the disease. However, people with severe cases can miss a lot more time at work—especially if they require inpatient care or an invasive surgery.

If you can work with accommodations, like the ability to take frequent, unscheduled restroom breaks or work from home as needed, we encourage you to do so. However, over time, many people cannot maintain their jobs due to Crohn’s disease. In these cases, applying for disability insurance benefits can help offset your lost income.

RELATED: “Own Occupation” Disability Insurance Policies: A Guide for Doctors

Can I Get Long-Term Disability Benefits for Crohn’s Disease or Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Sometimes, Crohn’s disease can make you eligible for disability insurance benefits. During a short-lived flare, you might qualify for short-term disability benefits, which typically cover leaves of absence that are under a year. However, if you are facing a more prolonged issue, you might qualify for LTD (long-term disability) benefits.

Before you apply for long-term disability insurance benefits, you should carefully review your policy. Its terms, conditions, and definition of disability will impact your eligibility for monthly LTD benefits.

Most policies define disability in one of two ways:

  • Own occupation: If you cannot perform your current job, you are eligible for long-term disability benefits.
  • Any occupation: You are disabled if you cannot perform any type of full-time work, including the simplest, lightest jobs.

While most LTD policies, especially employer-sponsored ones, use the more restrictive “any occupation” definition, some policies do apply the “own occupation” standard. (However, after two years, some “own occupation” policies transition to the “any occupation definition.)

If you need help translating all the waiting periods, terminology, and procedures outlined in your insurance policy, contact our office, and schedule a consultation.

How Can I Strengthen My Long-Term Disability Insurance Claim?

Long-term disability claims involving Crohn’s disease and IBD can become complicated. Many of the disease’s symptoms, like fatigue, decreased appetite, and chronic pain are subjective, and you cannot easily document their severity. Sometimes, insurance adjusters will argue that your diagnostic testing and the frequency of your medical appointments are not consistent with a disabling, severe impairment. Other times, they will argue that you are noncompliant because you have struggled with dietary changes or medication side effects.

Do not accept these arguments on face value. Instead, consult with an experienced disability lawyer who can help you strengthen your case and fight back.

While nothing compares to personalized legal advice, here are some things you can do now to build up your Crohn’s disease-related disability insurance claim.

RELATED: “Self-Reported” Symptoms: How to Fight Back With Medical Evidence

See Your Doctors and Follow Their Recommendations

When you are living with a chronic condition like Crohn’s disease, it is tempting to self-treat your symptoms at home. After all, you probably know what your gastroenterologist will recommend and it might save you on medical bills.

However, medical records also help document your flares and can help your doctors track the progression of your disease and its severity. This information will be essential during your long-term disability claim.

First, it can help you pinpoint the time when your symptoms became disabling. Second, consistent medical care can refute the insurance company’s arguments that you are in better health than you claim to be.

Additionally, insurance companies sometimes deny claims because people are “noncompliant” with their treatment. Do your best to follow your gastroenterologist’s recommendations. And if you cannot tolerate a recommended therapy, reach out to your doctor before you make changes to your treatment plan.

Track Your Crohn’s Disease Symptoms and Flares

While a symptom journal is not as compelling as carefully written medical records, these logs can help you, your doctors, and your disability insurance lawyer understand your day-to-day limitations.

It is easy to report that you are doing “about the same” or “okay” when you see your doctors or fill out insurance forms. However, when you track your symptoms, you might realize that you have experienced a gradual worsening of your Crohn’s symptoms or that your number of “bad days” is increasing.

For example, you might want to monitor your daily pain levels, bowel urgency, weight loss, loss of appetite, energy levels, and other issues caused by Crohn’s disease in a notebook, calendar, or online app.

If you are not sure where to start with symptom tracking, check out our free Disability Insurance Claim Roadmap. It includes helpful worksheets and other advice that can help you prepare your LTD claim.

RELATED: Disability Insurance Claims, Made Simpler

Do Not Minimize Side Effects Associated With Your Medications

Many treatments associated with Crohn’s disease have serious side effects—and the insurance adjuster must take them into account when evaluating your disability claim. If you are struggling with nausea, fatigue, or other issues, mention this to your doctors, disability lawyer, and the insurance company.

Consult With an Experienced Disability Insurance Lawyer

It is easy to make mistakes when you’re dealing simultaneously with a chronic health condition and a long-term disability claim. When you work with one of our disability insurance lawyers, we handle the insurance company and the details of your claim. Our goal is to give you peace of mind and space to focus on your health.

Initial consultations with our law firm are free, so there is little to no risk associated with exploring your legal options.

Bryant Legal Group: Chicago’s Premier Disability Insurance Firm

The disability attorneys at Bryant Legal Group guide professionals through their complex legal claims. We take a practical, client-centered approach that focuses on you and your family’s unique needs—and we have recovered millions in compensation for our clients.

If you have questions about whether you are entitled to disability benefits due to Crohn’s disease or IBD, schedule your free consultation today. You can reach us by calling 312-667-2536 or completing this brief online form.

References

Ameur M. Manceur, Zhijie Ding, Erik Muser, Camilo Obando, Jennifer Voelker, Dominic Pilon, Frederic Kinkead, Marie-Hélène Lafeuille & Patrick Lefebvre (2020) Burden of Crohn’s disease in the United States: long-term healthcare and work-loss related costs, Journal of Medical Economics, 23:10, 1092-1101, DOI: 10.1080/13696998.2020.1789649

Overview of Crohn’s disease. (n.d.). Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-crohns-disease/overview

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

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