The other day I was chatting with my boss who is also a close colleague. We oversee our department and as we regularly do, we were discussing a personnel issue. This one involved the loss of a person in our department who is close to obtaining long-term disability due to an auto-immune disease. The loss of this person as an employee necessitates finding a replacement and we’re in the process of conducting a search. I assumed that in this case the person was seeking Social Security Disability from the federal government but my boss told me that our employer has a long-term disability insurance policy. I casually mentioned that with my RA I could probably obtain long-term disability. He looks at me, grins, and jokingly says, “Yes, I know that and that’s why I’m hesitant to give you much information about the policy!” This conversation set me off on a hunt to find information about the policy and requirements.
One of the first reactions many RA patients have when receiving a diagnosis is about their work future. My reaction was colored by an experience with a neighbor years ago. He had a severe case of RA before the days of biological treatments. By the time I met him, he had not been working for at least 10 years. He eventually passed away in his early 60s due to heart problems caused by the RA. I still have vivid memories of his badly damaged joints and difficulty managing simple life tasks.
Rheumatoid arthritis has a great impact on quality of life.[i][ii] It is reported that more than 50% of RA patients become work disabled during the first ten years of the disease.[iii] The advent of biological treatments in the last 15 years dramatically impacted some patients.[iv] However, not all respond to biological treatments. In 2005, a group of researchers from Finland conducted a study of RA patients and their ability to work.[v] Between 23-54% of RA patients who had not achieved remission status as measured by the ACR criteria had permanent work disability. They concluded that “failure to achieve an ACR20 response carries a high risk for work disability.”
Yes, I regularly miss days of work due to symptoms and side effects. And yes, my history with biological treatments is not exactly a success story. But I try not to dwell on the possibility of disability. My motto is “work while the sun is shining.” If my symptoms get to the point where I can no longer work, it’s good to know that I have insurance coverage and ultimately, government coverage.