Walk the Talk Series: A Call to Action for Disability Insurers and Governments

This article is the first in a series written by Steven Muller, Vice President Litigation at Share Lawyers.

In early December 2023, a statement from MD Dan Fishbein, the President of Sun Life Financial U.S. called for the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to require mental health parity in long-term disability insurance. As I posted about 6 months ago, most long-term disability policies in the U.S. will pay benefits for mental health conditions for only two years while every other physical disability will be covered until retirement age. Unlike the U.S., Canada has done away with this archaic approach years ago. The Sun Life statement in December 2023 reads, "... As one of North America’s largest disability insurers, we support this important change. Mental health conditions should be covered by long-term disability in the same way that physical conditions are. We encourage Congress to take up and pass appropriate legislation to make this happen...There is a mental health crisis in America. Benefits designed 75 years ago and continued as a market tradition do not reflect today's reality..."

Closer to home, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also released a statement in December marking International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Some of the key points were "One in four Canadians have a disability- many with disabilities that are not visible." The statement goes on to reaffirm that Canada’s federal government is working on the Canada Disability Benefit, which will provide direct support to low-income, working-age Canadians with disabilities. Prime Minister Trudeau states, "We will continue to work in partnership with disability communities, provinces and territories and organizations across Canada to make Canada more accessible and to ensure that no one is left behind... The idea-of leaving no one behind-is also at the heart of Canada's role in promoting a more just and inclusive world." But not that long ago, June 2023, the federal government intentionally declined to support the Canadian Senate amendment to prevent disability insurers from clawing back the Canada Disability Benefit. With so much disability poverty and mental illness in our communities, what equitable approach is the Canadian federal government adopting to prevent the Canada Disability Benefit from Provinces, Territories and Insurance companies clawing back the Canada Disability Benefit? Impoverished disabled workers will be left behind if the federal government fails to deliver on protections from clawbacks. Clawbacks designed by insurers in the 1970s and continued as a market tradition do not reflect today’s reality in Canada.

Will disability insurers and federal governments walk the talk for 2024?

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