The ‘preventive medicine’ to help protect financial health when you’re seriously injured, ill or unable to work

(BPT) – If injury or illness left you unable to work – even for a short time – would your financial health be at risk? Fifty-nine percent of U.S. workers said their financial resources would last 12 weeks or less without a paycheck, and nearly a third (29 percent) would burn through their resources in a month or less if they became sick and unable to work, according to a November 2013 survey from Cigna.

The financial risks of a temporary loss of work can be potentially difficult. Yet many workers already have access to the “preventive medicine” designed to help protect their financial health – in the form of employer-sponsored supplemental benefits, sometimes known as voluntary benefits. These benefit plans are increasingly offered through employers as optional purchases by the employee and include such coverages as disability insurance, critical illness insurance or accidental injury insurance. Employees typically pay for these benefits through payroll deduction, and they’re typically less expensive through an employer than employees could purchase on their own.

Without a regular paycheck, workers may find they quickly exhaust their savings on rent or mortgages, utilities, food, child care and other essentials. They may also face unanticipated out-of-pocket medical costs to pay for treatment of an illness or injury. Workers are well aware of these risks; 84 percent surveyed by Cigna said they have worried about being unable to work and over how they would handle the situation.

For many workers, employer-sponsored voluntary benefits can be a way to obtain additional insurance coverage to help them pay for unexpected expenses or stay above water financially until they can return to work.

“Voluntary benefits are an important and growing part of many employers’ overall benefits packages, and many of these products can offer income protection against the unforeseen,” says Mike Witwer, vice president for Cigna’s voluntary benefits business. “With a little homework, workers can learn how voluntary benefits can fit into their own personal finance plans.”

Three examples of voluntary benefits that can help protect family finances include:

* Disability insurance – Disability insurance typically covers a portion of a worker’s regular wages for a pre-determined time span (short- or long-term), when disabled and unable to work due to a covered injury or illness.

* Critical illness insurance – Nearly 2 million Americans filed for bankruptcy protection this year as a result of medical bills and another 56 million adults could still struggle. With a serious illness, workers may find medical bills mounting – even with health insurance. Critical illness insurance is a cost-effective way to help offset out-of-pocket medical expenses due to a covered health event. Critical illness insurance pays a lump sum benefit with no restrictions on how to use the money.

* Accidental injury insurance – Accidental injury insurance can help make up for expenses not covered by other forms of insurance. If a covered accident leaves an individual injured, this coverage pays a lump sum benefit to help cover costs.

Many workers have access to these types of coverage through their employers’ benefit programs. In fact, 77 percent of employers with 10 or more workers offer at least one voluntary product, according to a study by Eastbridge Consulting Group.

Workers who’ve enrolled in employer-sponsored voluntary benefits say they like the payroll deduction (73 percent) and convenience of purchasing through their employer (68 percent). They also find these benefits less expensive than what they could purchase on their own (57 percent) and helpful in managing their budgets (36 percent), according to the Cigna survey.

Although workers ages 25 to 34 were least familiar with voluntary benefits, the usefulness of the benefits transcends age. When educated about voluntary benefit options and advantages for disability insurance, critical illness insurance and accidental injury insurance, about half of those among all age groups who are not currently enrolled in these benefits through their employer said they would be more inclined to enroll in them, the Cigna survey revealed. 

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