- Jenna Dreier has stopped working after developing long debilitating COVID symptoms.
- Thousands of Americans have probably left the workforce for the same reason.
- She had disability insurance, but the company said she did not have enough evidence to qualify for long-term payments.
Jenna Dreier, 55, never thought she would have to stop working before retirement age. But as a professional insurance agent, she prepared for the scenario, just in case.
Dreier, who asked that his true identity and employer remain confidential but have been verified by Insider, worked at one of the largest insurance companies in the United States for nearly seven years.
When the Texas resident signed up for benefits, she purchased a disability insurance policy offered by the company. As someone who has sold different types of insurance for years, Dreier was acutely aware of the surprising number of Americans who need some sort of short-term disability help at some point in their lives. career. One in fourfor example, suffer from some sort of disability.
“I said, ‘I’d rather be cautious in case something happens,'” Dreier told Insider.
And then something did: she got COVID.
She contracted the virus in January and is still suffering 11 months later. After experiencing a mild case of COVID, Dreier became exhausted the entire time, constantly nauseous and “even small efforts” sent her to the emergency room, she said.
“When I went to the ER, each time it was uncontrollable nausea and vomiting to the point where I was dry and dehydrated,” she said. “If I try to sit still for more than 20 minutes, I feel really, really sick.”
The description fits “long COVID,” which occurs when a person with COVID-19 develops symptoms that persist for an extended period of time, according to the CDC. The CDC says symptoms can last for weeks or months, and they can go away and come back.
Much of the long COVID is a mystery to medical professionals – why it happens, how to treat it – but a growing body of evidence shows it has affected million americans. Symptoms often include intense fatigue and “brain fog,” which makes basic functions extremely difficult for those who suffer from it. Dreier is one of the thousands of Americans who have likely left the workforce due to the long COVID, which is costing American workers between $60 billion and $100 billion lost wages per year, according to estimates by the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Brookings Institution, respectively.
At first, she took a leave of absence and started receiving payments from her short-term disability benefit. However, when it was time to switch to the policy’s long-term allowance – which guarantees benefits for longer, but at a reduced portion of his previous salary – his company rejected the application.
There is an appeal period, where Dreier can try again for his disability benefits. But money is tight in the meantime.
“I have to separate myself from the financial pressure even if I am in the middle of it”
Dreier is lucky enough to have some savings, but she is also the primary breadwinner for her family. Her husband also suffers from a disability which caused him to stop working as an airline pilot more than ten years ago.
To save time for her family, she ended up liquidating one of her investments so she could pay her mortgage. At present, she has spent around $11,000 on various treatments, which has further stretched her finances. Insider checked her medical bills, which included Hail Mary treatments like red light therapy.
“I have to separate myself from the financial pressure even though I’m in the middle of it,” she said.
Dreier’s situation is complicated by the fact that many medical professionals don’t understand long COVID. She said she received unsatisfactory information from her first doctor about why she slept so much and how long it might last.
She has since been treated for long COVID symptoms by multiple doctors and is currently receiving help from a long COVID clinic, according to medical records viewed by Insider.
But she never had an official test and she was vaccinated. That’s what hurt her by getting a long-term disability, according to her insurance company’s denial letter.
Dreier said she didn’t initially get a COVID test because her symptoms were mild and she didn’t want to clog the ER. Also, at the time COVID-19 home testing was underway scarce supplyand hospital systems were overload. Now Dreier is in disbelief that a test is the deciding factor in becoming disabled.
“It’s just funny to think about it now because there are so many rapid tests out there but people don’t even use them because they’re not always reliable,” she said of when she was sick. Studies show that rapid tests like those available in stores may miss cases.
Now she has a few months to appeal the insurance company’s decision. If they refuse her again, she can appeal to the court. But she’s spoken to lawyers about this potential scenario, and the legal fees are high — typically a third of her first 18 months’ salary if she wins, she said.
The effort she puts in to get her disability insurance payout is work in itself, she said, something that damages her health in a vicious cycle as stress makes it harder to recover.
She said she continues to have stress flare-ups, which are “like catching COVID again.”