By Norman J. Weinstein, Esquire
Each of us has heard of horrific stories of individuals who suffer catastrophic injuries, incur huge bills, and are unable to earn income as a result. The American Journal of Medicine published a national study that determined that in 2007, sixty one (61) percent of all bankruptcies filed in the United States were as a result of overwhelming medical bills. Ninety two (92) percent of these medical debtors had medical bills of over five-thousand (5,000) dollars. The remainder met the criteria for medical bankruptcy as a result of their loss of income due to illness or because they had to mortgage a home to pay for these bills. Of course having quality insurance to cover medical bills is crucial, but what does one do about all the other bills, especially if he or she is out of work for an extended period? Has your family planned for this contingency? If you are like most families the answer is no. So how do you plan?
First know the facts. What is your family budget? What are fixed expenses that must be paid or will result in the loss of a vehicle or worse yet, your home? Are there obligations for college tuition or parochial school that could be effected by an inability to continue to make payments? How would this impact your child’s life?
Planning early is essential and saving is crucial. But this may not be enough to carry you through more than a month or two. Therefore, knowledge of the benefits your employer provides is essential. These include health benefits, short term disability, long term disability, Workers’ Compensation, and life insurance.
Workers’ Compensation is a benefit for individuals who sustain an injury during the course of employment and related to that employment. It is state law that employers must provide this benefit. However, benefits are limited to wage loss and medical benefits for the work injury only. Each state is different. In Pennsylvania, wage loss is two thirds (2/3th) of one’s average weekly wage and is tax free. For low income earners the amount is ninety (90) percent of the average weekly wage.
Therefore, one needs to be prepared. If one has an injury an employer may cease employment and with that health benefits. However, health benefits may continue in accordance with the COBRA laws but the worker needs to pay for it. The employer could contest the claim and litigation could take months. Effective legal representation is extremely important.
Short and long term disability benefits (STD and LTD) are provided by some employers. Unless paid for by the employee, these benefits are taxable. The amount varies as these benefits are determined by the insurance contract and provide benefits for disabilities. If the employer does not provide these benefits, serious consideration should be given to obtaining them on your own. These disabilities may or may not be work related.
Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are benefits available to those who qualify. These programs are run by the federal government. One must have a disability from whatever cause that is expected to last twelve (12) months or longer. The disability must prevent one from performing his or her prior relevant job and any other job in our national economy. In determining this, one’s age, education, and prior work experience are considered. It is important to understand that these benefits could take months and in some cases years to obtain.
It is important to note that these benefits are impacted by one another, with offsets being common. Consulting with a lawyer is important.
The bottom line is to be prepared. Understanding your family’s financial needs, the benefits your employer provides, and the amount benefits available will help you plan. Financial specialist including accountants, and insurance agents, as well as lawyers, can be of great help.
When you are injured on the job and face mounting medical and household bills, the prospect of a long-term disability is daunting. You need to know and understand your rights to the government benefits to which you are entitled. The Workers’ Compensation attorneys at Galfand Berger not only fight hard to get our clients their rightful benefits under Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Laws, we are also well-versed in the intricacies of claims for Social Security Disability Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. Call us today at 1-800-222-USWA (8792) or contact us online to learn more about the benefits available to you.