Disability insurers should show as much compassion for their customers as they do for their employees, says Toronto personal injury and disability lawyer Nainesh Kotak.
Benefits Canada magazine recently reported that a major Canadian insurer saw a big drop in its mental health-related short-term disability claims after increasing the benefits available to its own employees two years previously.
According to the story, the firm boosted its maximum mental health benefit from $1,000 to $10,000 per person per year in January 2017, and also extended coverage to employees’ family members. Since then, the firm says its return-to-work rates for employees have spiked, jumping from 55 per cent to 86 per cent.
Kotak, principal of Kotak Personal Injury Law, says the company deserves credit for recognizing and reacting to the increasing prevalence of mental health conditions in society, which the Canadian Mental Health Association estimates affect approximately 20 per cent of the population at some point during their lifetime.
“I have to commend them for the commitment they’re showing to their own workers who are going through mental health issues by increasing the benefits available to them when they need assistance,” says Kotak, whose own practice frequently involves him representing clients affected by conditions such as depression, anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s a very good step in the right direction,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.
However, Kotak says there is still room for improvement, especially when it comes to those non-employees seeking coverage from the same providers for similar ailments.
“Most of the disability carriers have some sort of policy in place to at least pay lip service to support mental illness, but the real question is whether it translates into the fair adjudication of claims on the front line,” he says.
According to Kotak, many of these claimants are already facing a tough time because of the enduring stigma associated with psychological conditions and other invisible injuries.
While he’s hopeful that the latest developments will prompt disability insurers to improve their treatment of claimants with mental health issues, Kotak retains a healthy skepticism.
“I still represent many clients who have had their disability claims terminated or denied by various insurers, including this one, where the principal complaint is mental illness,” he says. “Being off work is not a good place for anyone who is on disability because you’re not making the same money and you’re dealing with an often-hostile insurance company.
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