Safety Goggles 3Shortly after putting out the group’s first pamphlet on how disability insurance can protect your family, Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, started offering it as a benefit to his employees. “That work [15 years ago] made me aware that I was being an irresponsible employer because we weren’t offering disability insurance,” he says, adding, “We feel pretty strongly that this is an important type of program.”

Brobeck is still trying to get the message out to other employers, and to employees, many of whom don’t even know whether or not they’re offered this benefit at work. Add it to your checklist for this fall’s open enrollment season when you sort through the benefits you’ll sign up for for next calendar year.

This week the Consumer Federation of America and Unum, the leading long-term disability insurance player by market share (16.2%), released a report based on interviews with 407 individuals who put in claims based on their employer group policies through Unum and have been on long-term disability for at least six months—or used to be. “The beneficiaries told us that disability insurance payments played an essential role in protecting their financial and emotional lives,” Brobeck says.

Long-term disability payments don’t replace your salary; they provide a buffer—usually 60% of your salary. That means that most recipients have to adjust their lifestyles and priorities: of those interviewed for the report, 85% cut back or completely stopped saving for retirement, and 58% skipped or delayed some medical, dental or vision care for themselves or family members.

Here are five myths about disability insurance the report debunks:

I doubt I’ll ever need it. The Social Security Administration estimates that one in four 20-year-olds will become disabled and unable to work before they reach the age of 67. In 2012, more than 650,000 disabled workers received more than $9 billion in long-term disability benefits through employer-sponsored group disability coverage.

Worker’s compensation will cover me. Worker’s comp replaces lost income if an injury or illness occurs on the job, but fewer than 5% of disabling accidents and illnesses are work-related. Most (90%) of long-term disability claims are for illnesses, not accidents. Vicki Burhenn, a Unum long-term disability recipient, from Lawrence, Indiana, went on disability in 2010 when her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease progressed so that she could no longer work as an office administrator at a mental health facility. “Emotionally, going on disability insurance was a Godsend, knowing I had the money coming in; it’s like going from drowning to taking a deep breath,” she says.

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