Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Disability Insurance: A Claimant’s Guide
The symptoms and uncertainty associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can turn your life upside down. If you’re unable to work due to your ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, you may be eligible for long-term disability benefits. However, the process of getting benefits can feel overwhelming — especially during a flare.
At Bryant Legal Group, we guide people through their complex disability insurance claims and help them get the benefits they deserve. In this article, we discuss the essentials of IBD-related disability claims.
What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
IBD is a category of diseases that cause inflammation and damage in your gastrointestinal system. When you have IBD, your immune system responds inappropriately to the harmless (and sometimes beneficial) microflora that live in your intestines. We don’t know the exact cause of inflammatory bowel disease, but there seem to be genetic and environmental components.
About 1.5 million people live with inflammatory bowel disease in the United States, and another 70,000 get diagnosed every year.
Common symptoms associated with IBD include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Bloody stools
- Unintentional weight loss
For many people, IBD symptoms come and go. When you’re in remission, you may live mostly symptom-free. However, during a flare, you may feel like you can’t work or leave the house due to your symptoms.
Doctors categorize IBD into two primary conditions: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. With ulcerative colitis, the disease is limited to your colon, which is the innermost lining of your large intestine. However, even when your IBD is limited to your colon, it can still have a profound impact on your daily life. In addition, people with ulcerative colitis may experience serious complications like toxic megacolon, colon perforations, and severe dehydration.
Crohn’s disease is generally considered a more severe diagnosis than ulcerative colitis since no surgical remedy exists to treat Crohn’s disease. With Crohn’s disease, you can experience inflammation anywhere in your gastrointestinal tract — even all the way up to your throat and mouth.
Most people living with Crohn’s disease have “skip lesions,” which means they have healthy tissue in between the diseased sections of their intestines. About half of people with Crohn’s require at least one surgery during their lifetime. Crohn’s can also cause life-threatening complications like bowel obstructions, fistulas, and severe malnutrition.
In addition to complications that are specific to Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, most people with IBD also live with an increased risk for colon cancer, blood clots, and inflammation of the skin, joints, and eyes.
IBD Is Often Confused With Other Conditions
IBD is an autoimmune disease that doctors can diagnose accurately through specific diagnostic tests. However, many people confuse ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease with unrelated conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and celiac disease. While these conditions can also be disabling and life-changing, a diagnosis of IBS or celiac disease will result in different treatment recommendations.
Can I Get Disability Insurance Benefits for IBD?
While many people with IBD achieve remission, about 11% of people with ulcerative colitis cannot work. People with Crohn’s disease are especially likely to become disabled. The numbers also increase for those who live with both depression and IBD.
Your eligibility for LTD benefits will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- The severity of your disease and prognosis
- The frequency of your flares
- The impact of other medical conditions such as depression
- Whether your treatment plan effectively manages your IBD
- Your work and educational background
- The terms and conditions of your disability insurance policy
No two IBD disability claims are the same. Your symptoms, treatment plan, and limitations are unique to your situation. When you work with an experienced disability insurance lawyer, they should carefully evaluate your claim and your disability insurance plan to give you a meaningful, personalized assessment of your claim.
After the initial assessment, your disability insurance lawyer will start building your LTD claim. This process will involve compiling your medical records, consulting with your physicians and other experts, and building your legal arguments.
Avoid These Mistakes in Your IBD Long-Term Disability claim
While you and your legal team may appreciate the severity of IBD, many insurance adjusters treat IBD-related disability claims with skepticism. Most people don’t understand how debilitating an IBD flare can be or how the uncertainty of IBD symptoms can worsen your depression and anxiety.
To give yourself the best possible chance of winning your claim and receiving the benefits you deserve, we suggest the following steps.
Don’t Suffer in Silence During a Flare
If you’ve been living with IBD for years, you may have learned how to handle a routine flare. However, when you skip the doctor’s office and treat your symptoms at home, you’re missing out on an important opportunity to document your disease.
If you self-treat your IBD symptoms, then the adjuster will question your credibility when you report monthly IBD flares in your long-term disability application. “They only went to the doctor for a flare twice last year!” the adjuster will argue.
To avoid this problem, contact your doctor every time you have a flare and describe your symptoms in detail. The nurse or physician’s notes, which should summarize your symptoms and their recommendations, will become valuable evidence during your disability insurance claim.
Don’t Ignore Your Doctors’ Recommendations
Sometimes, IBD treatment plans seem like a burden. Many IBD medications can cause negative side effects, and many IBD sufferers want to avoid a colectomy and J-pouch. While we would never encourage you to undergo surgery unless it’s necessary, you also shouldn’t stop taking your medications or make other medical decisions without a doctor’s approval.
In addition to the potential health risks, not complying with your treatment plan can also create challenges during an LTD claim. Insurance adjusters will argue that your “refusal” to take medications or try a treatment option is the reason you’re unable to work. The best way to avoid this insurance company tactic is to work closely with your medical team and do your best to follow their suggestions.
Don’t Gloss Over Your Other Medical Conditions
Many people with IBD also struggle with other serious health issues, including depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. When you apply for long-term disability benefits, the insurance company must consider all of your diagnoses, not just IBD.
So, it’s important that you don’t minimize your other medical conditions or focus solely on your ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease when you apply for disability insurance benefits. Both your doctor and the insurance company need to understand the full and accurate picture of your health.
Bryant Legal Group: Illinois’ Respected Disability Insurance Team
If you can no longer maintain employment due to ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, our disability insurance lawyers can help you understand your legal options. At Bryant Legal Group, we’ve been guiding people through their disability claims for decades, and we’ve built a reputation as one of Illinois’ foremost disability insurance firms.
Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (2014, November). The Facts About Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Author: New York, NY. Retrieved from https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/sites/default/files/2019-02/Updated%20IBD%20Factbook.pdf
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). (n.d.) Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/inflammatory-bowel-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353315
Rowe, W. (2017, October 17). Inflammatory bowel disease. Medscape. Retrieved from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/179037-overview
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.