Tuesday, September 20, 2011

For your information: Disability

Alright, prepare yourself for one of those odd "more information that hopefully you'll never need to know" blog post. I'm going to discuss disability and how that works. It's good and bad and I don't have it all figured out yet.

I have chemo every other week, for 48 hours. I'm in the hospital Monday through Thursday usually. If everything runs smoothly I could be out on Wednesdays, but that's less likely than me writing a whole blog post without a spelling mistake. Most of the time, I'm also out of commission on Friday of chemo weeks as well. That leaves me with the ability to work every other week. So I have to apply for disability. (Eric laughs every time I say I'm applying for disability and asks if they'll send me a free helmet, which isn't funny in the least but he thinks it is. This from a guy who had to ride the short bus after his hip surgery; you don't see me making fun of him do you?!) Legally, if you apply for disability, your employer has to guarantee your job for 3 months. After that - for me anyway - it's at my manager's discretion.

So, disability works like this from what I can tell. I'm not sure what applies to everyone, but I'll try to explain how it works for my situation. It was hard to figure out. Multiple helplines for multiple companies needed to be called. The company that I work for pays an insurance company to cover their employees in the event that they have to claim disability. It's part of the benefits package with the company. For me specifically, the benefits company is called Unam. Unam will pay for me when I'm on disability. They only pay a portion of my salary however. For the first 6 weeks, Unam will pay at 100% of my salary. After that, they pay at 70%. This varies depending on the policy your company takes out. I'm told is a very good deal by the people at Unam; the woman I spoke to, (technically that I cried at, because I was so worried,) was so so nice and told me that almost no company pays 100%. My benefits, however, will be paid at 1/7th for every day that I'm not working. Bummer there.

Ok, so I had to apply (call) through Unam. They send me a bunch of forms that I send back. These forms include some stuff my doctor has to fill out to prove I've got cancer. They have to have access to parts of my medical record and get my treatment plan. Unam will send me a check (minus taxes) weekly. God only knows what the delays are going to be on this or how complicated my taxes will be next April. Good thing my father-in-law-to-be is a tax guru. (Hi Paul).

There are two kinds of disability I could have taken. The first is continuous disability, which means I just stop working completely. I'm not legally allowed to even log on to my computer if I took that. It's pretty strict and effectively a divorce from the company. I, however, will be taking what's called "intermittent disability" which allows me to work when I feel well enough to do so. I've decided to work for several reasons - in no particular order:
  • I need something to do to keep me occupied
  • I like my coworkers
  • I need the money
  • I like my work...most of the time
  • I need to feel productive

The other reason that I decided to work is that you still have to pay for your benefits, including the all important health insurance. If I was taking continuous disability, my company would send me a bill for my benefits. "Send me a bill" should directly translate to "pay with after tax dollars". If I'm working though, my company has a paycheck to take my benefits out of and I can pay with before tax dollars. Small victory.

The next issue is that I'm only allowed to work 80% on the weeks that I can work. So even though on my non-chemo (aka good) weeks, I could work 40 hours, I'm only legally allowed to work 32 hours. Great. I'm going to debate this one when I call Unam next. I have a feeling the case manager I talked to from Unam  - who was different than the lady I cried at when I applied - didn't know what he was talking about. I'll be talking to them frequently though because I have to call them every Friday to report my hours that I worked. (Note to self: set up Outlook reminder). This, I'm sure, will be an ongoing process with Unam. 'Ongoing process' should be read as 'annoying things added to my to do list' Remember when I talked about that to do list that keeps getting longer with less energy? Yeah that's still there.

So here I am, with more medical bills and less money. It was upsetting, to say the least, when I did the math this morning. However, it's not the end of the world and I'm lucky to have a good job with such an understanding bunch of coworkers. I got to go to work this week and was really excited. It's surprising how much more you like your job and seeing your coworkers if you only have to go in 32 hours every other week.

Congrats if you made it to the end of this long and slightly boring post. You should get a gold star! In lieu of mailing stickers though, I'll reward my readers - all 3 of you - by ending with some positives. Again, in no particular order:
  • So far, I still have hair. It's thinning, but not gone yet.
  • I stopped growing new hair, which means less shaving my legs and armpits. Exciting because chemo patients clot less so shaving nicks are annoying.
  • I think I'll be able to reach my goal wedding weight. Not only do I not have to diet, but I can in fact eat a lot of fatty, yummy food and still lose weight. 
  • I'm thinking I'll be able to go to a UVA football game this weekend with my pseudo brothers, one of which just got back from Afghanistan and I haven't seen in several months.
...and the best news of all, I feel really good tonight! No pain, no aches and no medication hangovers tomorrow. :)


  1. Hi Patty! Good luck with all the insurance/disability stuff, sounds like a nightmare! Btw, I always read your blog :) Keep posting!

  2. ACK, I'm not first! lol There are all kinds of gold stars in this post. You have such a good heart and drive and do-good attitude! I like the positives best. And you do have fabulous hair, so we will mourn it's loss but just remind yourself that it's temporary, it will grow back and I bet thicker and more beautiful than ever! XOXOXOXOXOXO

    PS Sorry for all the red tape and BS you have to deal with... keep hanging in there!

  3. I love reading your blogs posts even though I know most of the stuff you write about. Please try to remember the 2 things we keep telling ourselves about money:
    1. We have lots of problems but money isn't one of them.
    2. You can charge stuff and "you'll probably have the money by the time the bill shows up even though you don't have it now."
    Both lies, I know, but if we say it often enough it will come true, right?

  4. Hi Patti, hurry up and get re-abilified, its boring around here with out you :)

  5. It was so good to see you yesterday and catch up in person. Wish I could be as cheerful as you are even when you are not feeling well! Just finished catching up on your blog. Your tenacious fight with the disability folks is quite admirable - keep up the good work. Tears may help, too :) Have a fabulous and fun weekend with the 'boys'.

  6. Hi, Cuz!

    You and your mother continue to amaze me. You are both about the strongest people I've ever known. Love your positive attitude.

    Bo was on disability for a while, and it was a life-saver. Don't know what we would have done without it. Oh, wait. I know! We would have gotten behind on our bills. lol

    Sending out strong vibes for the best of everything for you and your family.

    Love you,
    Your Cuz

  7. Hey Patti! You are truly amazing! Keep on keeping on!

    Your blog is a great idea. It helps us feel closer to you and lets us know what's happening in your world, without pestering you all the time. :)

    Please keep on sharing with us even if you think the subject for the day might be boring. Whatever is on your mind will not be boring to those who love and care about you!

    Much love,
    Aunt Julie