How to prepare for the financial blow of long COVID By Reuters

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© . FILE PHOTO: A patient suffering from Lung COVID is examined at the post-coronavirus disease (COVID-19) clinic of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel, Feb. 21, 2022. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

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By Chris Taylor NEW YORK () -When Nicole Flecchia contracted COVID-19 in January 2021, the University of Rhode Island grad student thought she might have been staring at symptoms for a few days or weeks. It is now April 2022 and the symptoms have never really gone away. The 26-year-old is among millions of Americans with so-called long-term COVID, with the damage from the virus taking its toll on their bodies and finances for months or even years. Because as much as the virus attacks the body – in the case of Flecchia with a dry cough, extreme fatigue and brain fog – it can also affect your financial life. For example, Flecchia’s student program required her to work 20 hours a week during the school year and 40 hours a week during the summer. With prolonged COVID she could only work an hour or two at a time. Flecchia tried to fight it out, but last January she finally went on medical leave from her program. She lives on savings while waiting for the symptoms to subside. Her story is far from unique. The American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation estimates that of the 79.17 million Americans who have survived an attack with the coronavirus, 30% or 23.75 million are dealing with some level of post-acute COVID. Typical symptoms include headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbances, dizziness, difficulty breathing and persistent brain fog, all of which can affect your ability to earn a living. “People are now realizing that not only will this destroy you physically, it can also ruin you financially,” said Diana Berrent, founder of Survivor Corps, the world’s largest COVID grassroots movement with approximately 200,000 members. The Biden administration took note of the looming health crisis and said this week it would develop a national plan to expand research, care and disability services for Americans suffering from the debilitating condition. DISABLED COVERAGE Ideally, long-term health problems would be covered by disability insurance, which pays out a percentage of your income while impacting your ability to work. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2020 benefits report, 71% of organizations surveyed offer long-term disability coverage and 62% short-term coverage. But since COVID has long been a recent phenomenon with more than 200 possible symptoms and little understanding of its underlying causes, patients often run into obstacles when dealing with health insurers and government agencies. And many employers don’t offer disability coverage. In addition, more and more employees are working on a freelance or short-term contract basis, without access to company benefits. In such cases, it may be worth taking out disability insurance yourself. The wisdom of that extends beyond COVID, as a quarter of Americans will experience a disability at some point in their working lives, according to the Social Security Administration. A Few Tips: According to Mark Friedlander, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, you should normally look for a policy that replaces about 60%-70% of your total taxable income. This can cost a premium of 1% -4% of your annual income. The best coverage takes into account increases in the cost of living and keeps pace with inflation. Usually there are waiting periods before benefits are paid out, such as 60 or 90 days, with the first check 30 days after that. Look for a period of coverage that lasts at least until age 65. And keep in mind that if you’re already dealing with long-term COVID, you won’t be able to take out a new policy to cover it, as this is like a pre-existing condition. There is also the potential to get disability benefits through Social Security for those who have worked and paid in that system for many years. However, that is a lengthy process involving both state and federal agencies, which will review the claim. But for those whose COVID symptoms persist for a long time, a monthly benefit can certainly help prevent financial ruin in the future. “I’d say the sooner the better for filing because it takes a long time to process,” advises TJ Geist, chief attorney at the firm Allsup, which helps patients file such claims. “It also helps to have a representative as you’re dealing with multiple layers of government.” See your doctor regularly, Geist advises, and be sure to get documentation of all of your limitations and symptoms. As for Nicole Flecchia, she still gets breathless from ordinary activities, such as climbing the stairs to her apartment. But she is looking forward to the day when she can continue her oceanography studies. “I try to stay positive because that’s really all I can do,” she says. said, “I have to hope that eventually I will get better and be able to work again.”

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