Does Private Disability Affect Federal Rolls?

Research

Does Private Disability Affect Federal Rolls?

Economists have long thought that if employees have disability insurance on the job, they might never migrate over to the government’s disability rolls. A new study finds just the opposite.

In Canada, the existence of short-term disability in the private sector increased the number of people going into the national government’s program by 18,300 in 2015 and increased program spending by 5 percent, according to a researcher at the University of Toronto.

The logic behind this is that enrollment rises in the government program, which provides long-term benefits, because a negative incentive is at play. If employees with a disability or workplace injury have short-term coverage at work, they will have a regular source of income to tide them over while they apply for government benefits and wait for a response.

The Canadian study has implications for the United States, because the two countries’ programs are similar. The connection between U.S. government and employer disability is also of interest because some policymakers here would like to see mandates for employer disability become more widespread. Ten U.S. states and the District of Columbia currently require employers to provide the coverage for serious medical conditions.

This research adds a new voice to a lively debate on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. Others have argued that when companies offer short-term disability, they prevent some people from going onto the government rolls by giving them time off to recover from an illness or injury before it becomes chronic. Employers also have an incentive to control their insurance costs by preventing injuries or accommodating employees with disabilities so they can keep working.

The data used in the Canada study are unique in the developed world: national records on payroll tax rebates to employers that offer disability insurance. The researcher identified 5,801 companies that stopped offering the insurance and followed their employees’ entry into the national program, comparing them with employees at companies that kept the coverage.

Looking over the border to the United States, the researcher said policymakers might learn from Canada’s experience. More mandates for private insurance could wind up costing the government more money.

But stay tuned. This debate is far from settled.

To read this study, authored by Michael Stepner, see “The Long-term Externalities of Short-term Disability Insurance.”

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report.  Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

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