Living with Crohn’s disease can make life feel impossible. Unpredictable and incurable, the disease leaves most affected people debilitated for long swaths of time. The symptoms can come and go at a moment’s notice or last for days and even weeks at a time, if not longer. These ups and downs can lead to problems when applying for long-term disability benefits, often resulting in denied claims.
Take Everett, for example. Stomach pain was nothing new since he was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at 14 years old. By the time he was 39, he had been through several surgeries and felt like he had spent half of his life in a waiting room or a recovery bed. For the most part, he was able to manage well enough to go about his daily life as a Fund Manager.
Unfortunately, as is common with Crohn’s, some days were worse than others. When his symptoms flared, the pain was debilitating and diarrhea only added to his physical distress and embarrassment. He often called in sick to avoid sharing his condition with his coworkers because the pain and regular bathroom visits made it nearly impossible to concentrate.
That put him in a difficult situation when his Crohn’s took a turn for the worse. In the past, his flare-ups seldom lasted more than a day or two and were rare enough so as not to infringe on his daily routines. Now they were starting to happen more frequently, which kept him out of the office for days and even weeks at a time. He tried working remotely but the pain and discomfort were too much, causing him to take more sick days which raised questions at work.
With Crohn’s disease, the flare-ups are entirely unpredictable. While some may be used to flare-ups that last only a couple of days, it’s possible to be struck by ones that last a couple of weeks to months, or even years, seemingly out of the blue. Often there’s nothing that can be done other than trying to alleviate discomfort. In more serious situations where a bowel blockage is involved, the ramifications can be more severe.
In Everett’s case, he filed a long term disability claim that was almost immediately denied on the grounds that his Crohn’s disease was not severe enough to keep him away from work. The insurance company ignored the unpredictability of his symptoms and their severity.
“With a condition like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, it’s very difficult to convince insurance companies that flare-ups are as debilitating as they are,” said Wendy Share, Executive Director at Share Lawyers. “Most just assume that flare-ups are short-lived, and that they can be worked through. The reality, however, is much worse, and can even lead to long-term hospitalization. Taking the time to figure out a feasible plan of action with how to proceed through life is invaluable. Denying benefits that would help with that process becomes a serious problem.”
Over 270,000 Canadians are living with some form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. As a result, Canada has one of the highest rates of IBD in the world. By 2030, that number is expected to climb to over 400,000, nearly 1% of the total population of Canada. A lack of understanding from the general public leads to denied claims like Everett’s that can cause serious problems down the line. It’s time we educate ourselves, and end the stigma around IBD and Crohn’s disease.
*All client names and identifying details have been changed to protect the confidentiality of all involved.