Life with MS

Get the Facts: Insurance and Investments after MS

By Iris Kozak, LUTCF, LTCP
Often, people are diagnosed with MS before they ever think about planning for retirement. You may be in the early stages of your career or just starting a family. While your physical health is your primary concern, your fiscal health is extremely important, as well. No matter what your financial situation, it is wise to take stock of what planning you already have in place, as well as your future options.
Q: I recently found out I have MS. Does my diagnosis affect my ability to buy insurance?
A: A diagnosis of MS does change some of your insurance options. For example, in most cases you will not be able to purchase long-term care insurance. And while you should still be eligible for life insurance, if you are considering purchasing a policy, time is a factor. It is easier to get life insurance within the first two years after diagnosis and if you have mild MS symptoms.
If you are employed, you may have health insurance through a group plan. Should you leave your job, you may have the option to continue your policies; however, the insurance company can exclude coverage of some conditions. You have the right to continue your health insurance for at least 18 months through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, better known as COBRA, although your premiums may increase.
Your medical information must be disclosed on all insurance applications. Only guaranteed issued health insurance plans will not require underwriting. Review any existing insurance policies as soon as possible to learn your options and contact your agent to find out what is best for you.
Q: My MS attacks come and go, and I might not always need my benefit. Can I still use disability insurance?
A: There are two types of disability insurance: short term and long term.
Short term disability insurance usually covers an employment absence of 90 days to one year. 
Long term disability insurance has an extended time frame, and most policies will cover an individual until they turn 65 years of age. Most policies will coordinate benefits with assistance you receive under Social Security Disability.
If you already have disability insurance and you meet the necessary requirements to trigger benefits, (generally trouble with two activities of daily living expected to last 90 days or longer) you will receive a percentage of your income either until you are employed again or the benefit expires. Benefits vary. Your policy might have a rider for partial disability, so if you are able to continue working part time, you may still receive reduced benefits.
If you work, you may have disability insurance through your employer. Disability policies are portable, that is you might be able to continue your policy should you leave your job or leave the state. However, you should always inform the company if you relocate and ask if benefits will be affected before you make decisions. Make sure you read your contract thoroughly and contact the insurance company or your agent with specific questions.
Q: Are there any policies available that can help me plan for long-term care?
A: A long-term care policy provides help in a person’s home, as well as in facilities that offer assisted living, nursing home and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care. If you already have long-term care insurance, the triggers to receive benefits are similar to disability insurance. Most require that assistance is needed with two activities of daily living and certification by a medical professional that care will be needed for 90 days or longer due to severe cognitive loss or chronic illness. Without this type of policy, it is possible to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on care.
Q: I can no longer work and will be leaving my job. What are my options for investments like my 401(k)?
A: If you have a retirement plan with your company and you leave your job, it is extremely important that you speak with your employer or human resources department to learn your options.  Some companies might allow you to continue your 401(k), although they will no longer match contributions. Or, it may be in your best interest to do a 1035 exchange into an IRA, but you must seek professional advice to see if that is the case. The same would apply to 403(b)s and any other qualified plans. You must be careful with your decision, since you can incur IRS penalties as well as other expenses.
You may also want to consider an income annuity. These are vehicles that provide a regular monthly income, based on an initial lump premium. No underwriting is required, but the amount of payout depends on the principal, as well as your age and gender. In some cases, an income annuity is of great value and can help assure that you receive income that will not run out over the course of your lifetime. 
It is important, however, to compare products and the fees for all options. Your account should be managed by people you trust and who will act in your best interest.
Q: I know I should be thinking about the future, but I feel overwhelmed. Where can I go for more help in making these decisions?
A: No matter what your income level, insurance agents and certified financial professionals can help you determine what course of action is best now and in the future.
Iris Kozak is a Long-Term Care Professional and Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow, as well as a New York Life Insurance agent and a Registered Representative of NYLIFE Securities. To find a New York Life insurance agent in your area, visit at
 (Last reviewed 7/2009)