ERISA Is Great, But

If you have an ERISA income disability policy (a group LTD insurance policy most often purchased through an employer), you may think you have the same coverage and benefits as a privately purchased disability policy – but, you would be flat out wrong.

First off, in most states you would have to deal with the ERISA “discretionary clause” which puts a policyholder behind the 8-ball before a claim is even filed. Some 16 states have prohibited the clause in new policy language, but most states haven’t.

This clause allows the insurance company, which will pay the claim, to initially determine if the claim is covered by the disability policy. If the insurer says “no”, then the claimant has to climb out of a deep legal hole to prevail no matter what the actual facts of the claim.

A private policy has no “discretionary clause” to put the claimant on the defensive right from the start. If a private insurer denies a disability claim, the policyholder has to prove the disability is covered by a straightforward preponderance of the evidence and does not have to prove that the insurer’s denial of a claim was “arbitrary and capricious” a tough standard of proof in any court.

Other advantages of private over ERISA polices are:

* The way covered earnings are calculated. ERISA covers base salaries while private policies usually cover base plus incentive compensation.
* Taxation. ERISA benefits are taxed to the extent of employer contribution. Private benefits, usually paid with after-tax dollars are non-taxable.
* No benefits offsets. ERISA benefits are frequently subject to offsets from other group insurance benefits, SSDI, and Workers Comp. Private policies usually hve no benefits offsets.
* Portability. Private disability income policies are transferrable if employment changes. ERISA policies are generally not transferrable.
* “Own Occupation”. Private policies have “own occupation” clauses which are more tailored to the policyholder’s occupational status at time of policy purchase. ERISA policies usually have a 2-year “own occupation” coverage and then switch to an “any occupation” disability definition.
* Contract Changes. Private coverage usually prohibits rate increases until age 65 while ERISA rates can increase during the life of the policy.
* Cost of living. COLA increases are much more common in private coverage while it is rare in ERISA policies.
* Mental and nervous disorders. ERISA policies often limit benefit coverage to 2 years. With a private policy, even an unlimited benefit coverage for these types of ailments may be purchased.
* Legal rights. Private policy claims permit jury trials, while ERISA claims do not. In addition, private disability insurance allows full discovery and punitive damages in a proper case while ERISA coverage permits very limited discovery and no punitive damages.

If you are covered only by an ERISA policy and believe you would like to have some of the benefits of a private disability income policy, there is nothing stopping you from buying additional cover age to supplement what you have under ERISA.

If so, don’t delay. Buy the additional coverage BEFORE something untoward happens. Otherwise you’ll cry over spilt milk and lost benefit dollars.


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