This article appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of The Classroom Teacher.

The all-too-unfortunate reality is that 30 percent of all employees will suffer from a career-ending disability before retirement; many more can expect a short-term disability at some point during their working life. Are you prepared?

The vast majority of school employees do not participate in Social Security. One consequence that educators often do not think about is that they will not have access to Social Security disability benefits in the event of a long-term disability. Even those who have paid into Social Security at some point may not be eligible, as there are rules requiring recent participation. (See the Social Security Administration’s “Disability Benefits” brochure online here.)

As a school employee you may be eligible for disability retirement through TRS, but if you have fewer than 10 years of service credit in TRS, your access to benefits and to retiree health insurance will be limited to the number of years of service credit you have.

An unexpected disability can result in a loss of income and a decimation of savings and other resources. Disability insurance should be an important part of planning ahead for educators. 

But I’m young and healthy…

The Social Security Administration reports that 1 in 4 of today’s 20-year-olds can expect to be out of work for at least a year due to a disability prior
to retirement age. Planning now is a smart way to protect yourself down the road — and if you’re not so young and not so healthy, it’s even more important that you be prepared for the possibility of a disabling event or condition.

What kinds of disabilities are we talking about?

According to the Council for Disability Awareness, the most common reasons for short-term disability leave are:

  • Pregnancies (25 percent) 
  • Musculoskeletal disorders (back/knee/hips/shoulders)
  • Digestive disorders (hernias/gastritis)
  • Mental health issues
  • Injuries (fractures/sprains)

Most common reasons for long-term disability:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Cancer
  • Pregnancy
  • Mental health
  • Injuries

The teacher population has many high-risk characteristics — you’re primarily female, subject to high stress, and on your feet most of the day. 

How can I buy disability insurance, and how much will it cost?

Some Texas school districts offer disability insurance as part of the compensation package, but it is not required. Even if your district offers it, you may purchase a different plan after conducting your own research.

Costs vary depending on the type of coverage you opt for, your age, your health (you may or may not be required to take a medical exam), and other factors. A rule of thumb is that you should expect to pay between 1 percent and 3 percent of your annual salary for a long-term policy — for a teacher making $50,000, this would be $500 to $1,500 per year, or around $42 to $125 per month. However, you can cut costs by reducing the payout, increasing the waiting period before benefits kick in, or otherwise tweaking the benefits. 

TCTA does not offer disability insurance or recommend any particular insurance company or policy. As noted earlier, you may have access to a group plan through your employer; otherwise, there are many resources online that can help you in your quest for adequate, affordable coverage.