Almost 2.4 million Americans — or approximately 1% of the adult population — live with hepatitis C. This disease often produces no symptoms during the initial infection, which may lead to irreversible liver damage. The treatment for hepatitis C can often be disabling.
Individuals who suffer from long-term or chronic hepatitis C may be unable to work due to the symptoms of their disease or the medications designed to treat it. Long-term disability (LTD) insurance may help to fill the gap, allowing you to stop working if you are disabled due to chronic hepatitis C.
If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis C and are considering filing for LTD benefits, a Cherry Hill disability benefits attorney can help you file a claim. Working with a lawyer can ensure that you understand the terms and conditions of your policy — and that you have achieved the best possible outcome for your application.
What Is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is an infection caused by a virus. It leads to inflammation of the liver and may cause significant liver damage. It is often asymptomatic — or a “silent” infection for many years until there is enough damage to cause liver disease.
Long-term infection with hepatitis C is known as chronic hepatitis C. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Bleeding easily
- Bruising easily
- Poor appetite
- Dark-colored urine
- Swelling of the legs
- Weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Fluid buildup in the abdomen
- Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech
- Spider-like blood vessels on the skin
Chronic hepatitis C starts with an acute phase that begins 1 to 3 months after exposure to the virus and lasts from 2 weeks to 3 months. If the virus is not cleared, then it may become chronic. In addition to liver disease, chronic hepatitis C can cause other complications, such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, or liver failure.
Hepatitis C is diagnosed through blood tests. If an initial test shows the presence of hepatitis C in your blood, additional tests can be done to measure the viral load (quantity of the virus in your blood) as well as the genotype of the virus.
Doctors may also use other diagnostic tests to determine the extent of liver damage for patients with chronic hepatitis C. This may include a magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) test to create a visual map showing stiffness of the liver, a transient elastography test, or a liver biopsy. Further blood tests can determine the extent of fibrosis in your liver.
The primary treatment for hepatitis C infection is antiviral medications. These drugs work to clear the virus from your body. The length of treatment and choice of medication will depend on the type of virus, existing liver damage, other medical conditions, and prior treatments.
For individuals who have developed serious complications from chronic hepatitis C, a liver transplant may be necessary. Even after a transplant, antiviral medication is typically necessary to treat hepatitis C. Doctors typically recommend that all patients with hepatitis C be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B to prevent further liver damage.
Obtaining Long-Term Disability Benefits for Hepatitis C
If you cannot work due to chronic Hepatitis C, you may be eligible for LTD benefits. However, in order for your application for benefits to be granted, you must prove that you are disabled under the terms of your policy. If your application is approved, you will typically receive a monthly payment of between 50 and 60% of your income for a period of between 24 months and retirement age.
After you file a claim for LTD benefits, the insurance company will investigate your application. It will be evaluating two aspects of your claim: whether you have the disability that you claim (in this case, chronic hepatitis C) and if that disability affects your ability to work. The insurer will review all documentation submitted, and will often conduct their own research into your claim, such as by surveilling you, interviewing neighbors and coworkers, and reviewing any claims for Social Security disability.
First, you will need to demonstrate that you have been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C. This can be proven by submitting your blood test results that show your initial diagnosis, along with additional testing showing damage to your liver. Depending on the tests that your doctor order, this may include an MRE test, a transient elastography test, or a liver biopsy.
Second, you will need to submit evidence of how your chronic hepatitis C impacts your ability to work. This is often achieved by submitting a written letter from your treating doctor explaining how your disease, the treatment of your disease, or both affect you. For example, your doctor may state that hepatitis C causes your fatigue and nausea, which makes you unable to concentrate or perform your typical work duties.
In addition, while medications for treating hepatitis C have advanced, they carry significant side effects. These antiviral drugs are known to cause:
- Flu-like symptoms (such as headache and muscle aches)
- Lung problems (cough, shortness of breath, airway and lung infections)
- Mood changes (depression, mood swings and irritability)
- Skin problems (dry skin, itching, rash, and hair loss)
- Sleep problems, such as insomnia
- Stomach problems (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, appetite loss, bad taste in the mouth)
- Serious side effects, including:
- A sharp reduction in red blood cells (anemia)
- Suicidal thoughts in impulses
- Low level of clotting cells in the blood
- Eye problems (abnormalities in the light-sensitive lining in the retina)
- Inflammation in the tissue in the air sacs and lining of the lungs (interstitial pneumonitis)
- Increased or new signs of thyroid disease
- Flares of existing autoimmune conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
Many of these side effects are disabling. Treatment can take as long as 8 to 24 weeks, and not all cases of hepatitis C respond to treatment. Your doctor can explain how your medication affects you and may render you unable to work.
By first detailing your chronic hepatitis C diagnosis and then relating how the symptoms of your diagnosis prevent you from working, you will increase the likelihood of a successful application for LTD benefits. Reviewing your LTD insurance policy closely with a Cherry Hill disability benefits attorney before filing a claim can help you through the process.
Ready to File? Contact Us Today.
Because hepatitis C is often not diagnosed until after liver damage occurs, many individuals with chronic hepatitis C may not ever fully recover. The impact of liver damage can make it impossible to work, which is why long-term disability insurance is so crucial for your financial stability. Receiving benefits can make a substantial difference in your ability to cover your expenses as you heal.
Bross & Frankel represents clients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania who are unable to work because of a disability. We have more than 20 years of experience in this area of law, giving us a unique perspective on the process as well as what our clients go through when they are in this situation. Contact our office today at 856-795-8880 or online to schedule a free disability claim review.