Medical Residency Personal Finance

Evaluating your physician disability insurance policy


Disability insurance for physicians policies vary greatly based on the quality and rating of the insurer, the definitions of disability they offer, the maximum benefit limits available and their premium rates. It is more important than ever for physicians to take the time to compare the contractual provisions of medical disability insurance policies they are considering and to understand how and why they differ.

There are three important factors to consider when evaluating any doctor disability insurance policy:

  • The definition of disability.
  • The costs of coverage.
  • The additional riders available.

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Many other insurance terms and factors can influence which policy is the best fit for your needs and your decision to buy a policy.

Consult a professional insurance adviser or financial planner who specializes in working with doctor disability insurance or other professionals—they will be familiar with which policies are best suited to the needs of an individual physician or the physician’s practice. If you need assistance in finding a reputable adviser, AMA Insurance Agency Inc., an AMA subsidiary, offers physicians access to disability insurance underwritten by New York Life Insurance Co. 

Explore four disability insurance details that physicians often overlook.

Professionals must pay careful attention to the definition of disability found in their policies because it ultimately determines how any claim for benefits will be judged. There are various definitions of disability commonly found in the insurance industry, with significant differences between them.

Specialty own-occupation. This may also be referred to as own-specialty occ. This means you are eligible to get benefits if you are unable to perform the duties of your own medical specialty—not just some other job in the medical profession.

Own-occupation. Also known as true or pure own-occupation, this is a more specific definition of total disability available. It pays benefits if the insured is not able to perform the material and substantial duties of their occupation. The insured would collect full disability benefits if they could no longer work in their occupation, even if they decided to transition into another occupation..

Modified-own occupation. This is the most prevalent type of definition of disability and it typically pays benefits if an insured is unable to perform the substantial and material duties of their occupation and are not working. This definition will not allow an insured physician to continue getting full disability benefits if they work in another occupation—but it can help replace any lost income.

Any occupation. The most general definition of disability is called any occ. This is often found in employer group policies. Under this definition, an insured is eligible to receive benefits only if found to be unable to work in a profession they are educated, trained for or experienced in. Being generally well-educated, physicians may find it very difficult to collect benefits under this type of policy.

Read more about how to protect your income if you’re injured and cannot continue practicing your specialty

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A key component of an individual physician disability income insurance policy is the price, or premium. Premium rates are based on factors such as the insured’s age, gender, monthly benefit, waiting period, optional riders and occupational classification.

As a rule, the younger a physician is, the lower the cost. Policies with more specific definitions of disability are more expensive than those offering a broader definition—like a policy with an any occupation definition. 

Additional factors can influence the price of the policy, such as the type of plan being purchased. Several types are outlined below.

Group coverage. Policies offered as part of an employer group, for instance, are generally less expensive than other options. But these contracts typically have a very general, or broad, definition of disability and often provide the least amount of coverage.

Individual plans. Often referred to as individual disability insurance, these plans typically offer a level premium that is guaranteed for the life of the policy. This ability to lock in the premium is attractive to many physicians, but it can make these policies more expensive. These policies are also considered noncancellable, so the coverage and rates are locked in and cannot be cancelled in the future, as long as premium payments continue to be made. 

Association plans. These policies are often provided with an increasing rate structure. They typically offer less expensive premiums in the early years of the policy, and then premiums increase as you get older. These plans can be especially helpful to physicians looking for quality coverage at affordable rates while they are on a limited income. These types of plans are typically available on a guaranteed renewable basis, meaning the plan is guaranteed to remain in force, but the rates are subject to change.

Adding a residual disability rider to the policy allows a disabled person to continue receiving benefits proportionate to the loss of income if they returned to their occupation on a part-time basis.

Generally, to qualify for residual disability benefits, one must experience an income loss of 20% or more compared with pre-disability earnings. Additionally, if the loss of earnings is greater than 75% or 80%, depending upon the rider’s provisions, 100% of the monthly disability benefit might be paid.

Catastrophic disability rider. This rider was introduced by many insurance companies to pay additional benefits if an insured is unable to perform two or more activities of daily living without human standby assistance, or if the insured suffers a cognitive impairment or an irrevocable disability.

Cost of living adjustment rider. Designed to help an insured’s benefits keep pace with inflation after a disability has lasted for 12 months. The adjustment can be a flat percentage or tied to the consumer price index.

Future increase option rider. Offers the ability to increase an insured’s disability coverage, regardless of future health as income rises. It is important to know when coverage can be increased, and by what increments, on any given option date. This can be an especially attractive feature to young physicians as they grow into their careers. 

Tax implications. According to Internal Revenue Code section 104(a)(3), personal disability insurance benefits are received free of income tax, provided that premiums are paid with post-tax dollars. This is generally the case when buying an individual policy. If an employer provides coverage and takes a tax deduction for the premiums paid on the insured employee’s behalf, however, the benefits are taxable when received. This means that an employee could lose as much as nearly one-third of the benefits when they are most needed. It is important to understand the difference. 

Mental and nervous provision. Often referred to as M&N, this provision can exclude coverage or limit coverage if a mental disorder or substance abuse causes a disability. Many carriers place a two-year restriction on benefits paid when a disability is triggered by this type of condition. Some carriers, on the other hand, will pay benefits to age 65—but that feature is likely to increase the policy’s premium.

Loan payoff provisions. Several disability plans now offer benefits that can help an insured pay off their student loans if they were to become disabled. This benefit can range from $150,000 to $250,000 and is paid in addition to the monthly benefit specified in the policy.   

Maximum monthly benefit. Someone who has an old policy with a future purchase option rider might be subject to the rules that applied at the time the policy was purchased. In such a case, the insured might be able to purchase coverage in excess of the maximum monthly benefit.

AMA Insurance offers disability income insurance for every stage of a physician’s career. Coverage for physicians is completely portable, with up to $15,000 per month in benefits. Policies for residents is specialty-specific and has a flexible premium structure. Coverage for medical students starts at just $41 per year and comes with guaranteed acceptance.