Disability Insurance

As you near completion of dental school, you should secure student-pricing for disability insurance. Disability insurance will provide you with an income in the event you become unable to practice dentistry due to disability. I know you have A LOT on your plate as a D4, but here’s why you want to secure student-pricing ASAP:

  • PRICE: Compared to malpractice insurance (AKA professional liability insurance), disability insurance is expensive! As a new dentist, professional liability insurance will typically cost $50-100 your first year. The reason it’s so affordable is because you do not have a patient base (yet) that could sue you. In comparison, disability insurance will likely cost thousands of dollars per year. Given the steep price, it’s a good idea to lock in student rates ASAP!
  • RISK: You have the most to lose right now, as you begin your dental career. God forbid, if you were to have an accident now, without disability insurance, you would lose all of your potential income over the lifetime of your career. 
  • UNDERWRITING/EXCLUSIONS: Underwriting is a part of the disability insurance application, in which you disclose medical history, medications, and any pre-existing conditions. These disclosures may affect your coverage. Therefore, you want to undergo the underwriting process ASAP, while you’re young and healthy, to ensure maximum coverage. 

Check out this post from SDN:

“I went to the doc during 2nd yr because my hand was hurting (too much note 
taking). Nothing was found. I now have a clause in my policy to not cover me 
for any problems with my right hand. Wish I knew about disability policies back 
then..."

While I certainly do not recommend putting off necessary medical treatment, you should be aware that your medical history will be reviewed during the application process. So, the earlier you secure disability insurance, the better! Problems down the road may affect your coverage.

The Basics

You will work with an insurance broker to select the best insurance carrier and policy for you. Some of the major insurance carriers are: Ameritas, Guardian, Mass Mutual, Principal, and Standard. You will want a policy that is Non-CancelableGuaranteed Renewable. In other words, the insurance carrier can’t cancel, increase premiums, or reduce benefits. You will also want an “Own Occupation” policy, meaning you could work in another field if you become disabled and unable to practice dentistry.

The price of your policy will vary based on: the benefit (i.e., dollar amount) you want to receive if disabled, the waiting period (how long you have be disabled before benefits kick in), and until what age you want the policy to go to. Personally, I selected a policy that offers a 5K benefit, 90 day wait period, until age 65.

Additional riders will also affect the price of your policy. For example, a catastrophic disability rider provides additional benefits in case of a catastrophic injury (i.e., severe cognitive impairment or inability to complete two of the six Activities of Daily Living: bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, transferring, continence). Additionally, several carriers offer student loan riders, in which your student loans are paid off on a monthly basis if you become disabled (sadly, even if you are disabled, loan payments don’t just go away)!

Differences Between Carriers

While the major carriers offer similar policies, here are some provisions where they may differ: 

  • Dividends: Some insurance carriers pay policyholders annual dividends (i.e., money back). Insurance companies may pay their customers an annual dividend when the company’s investment returns, experience (paid claims), and operating expenses are better than expected.
  • Wait Period: You will select the wait period for your policy (i.e., how long you have be disabled before benefits kick in). However, some policies require the wait period to be consecutive days of missed work, while others allow accumulated days of missed work. This may come into play if you have a disability that involves “flare ups.” Anytime you go back to work, your wait period would start over again.
  • Residual: This rider provides partial benefits when you can’t work at the same level of productivity that you did before your disability. For example, perhaps you can’t work as many hours, or you can only work a couple days a week, or you simply can’t get as much done. Insurance carriers define the threshold for partial benefits differently. Some require 15% or more income loss, while others require 20% or more income loss. 
  • Increases/Updates: As your career progresses, and you make more money, you may wish to increase your benefit. Each carrier approaches this process differently. Some carriers offer increases at any time, while others require benefit increases every three years. Whether or not your rate is locked in also varies. 
  • Mental Health: To prevent insurance fraud, most insurance carriers provide limited mental health coverage. Most carriers offer two years of benefits after one incident (you can only receive this once through the life of the policy). Mass Mutual offers two years of benefits after each incidence for the life of the policy. With an additional rider, Principal offers mental health coverage thru the lifetime of the policy. 

Application/ Underwriting

Some insurance carriers have a reputation for having more/less aggressive underwriters. Based on your medical history and insurance needs, your broker may recommend a specific carrier. It’s important to find a broker who has a strong relationship with a specific underwriter, and is willing to advocate for you, as needed. You will undoubtedly have multiple brokers vying for your business. Ask them if they have a strong relationship with a specific carrier’s underwriter. 

Be careful with the application questions! Your answers are shared in the Medical Information Bureau (MIB) database, which all carriers have access to. The purpose of the MIB is to “uncover errors, omissions or misrepresentations made on insurance applications.” With the MIB database, once an insurance carrier denies you coverage, the other carriers will know as well. 

My advice is to utilize the expertise of your broker to complete your application over the phone. Only answer what the question asks. Do not offer ANY additional details. However, you should be truthful, as underwriters have access to your medical information, including prescriptions and the prescriber. If an underwriter “catches” you in a lie, you may be denied coverage altogether. Again, it can be difficult to find coverage after being denied because other carriers will see your application history through the MIB database; plus, this is a question on all insurance applications (i.e., “Have you ever been denied coverage in the past?”).

If you have a pre-existing condition, the underwriter may require a physician’s statement. Or, you may have an exclusion added to your policy. For example, if you have a pre-existing back injury, future problems with your back may be excluded. This means you will NOT be able to claim disability benefits for any back problems in the future.

Depending on the pre-existing condition, your carrier may provide the opportunity to have an exclusion reviewed and/or lifted after a two-year period. In other words, you could gain coverage that was previously excluded after two years, if you no longer have symptoms and you are no longer treated for the condition. 

Summary

While I’m no insurance guru, I spent a lot of time shopping around for insurance. I hope this post provides some useful information in plain language as you begin searching for the right insurance carrier and plan for you! Insurance gets complicated, so please make sure to reach out to your broker for clarification.

When selecting a broker, you should feel confident that you are in good hands, and comfortable enough to openly discuss health information. For private people (like myself), this can be challenging! As someone who’s done the legwork for you, I highly recommend Jim and Tyler at Doctors Disability Specialists. Jim and Tyler are incredibly professional yet easy-going. The vulnerability of divulging health information may sound unpleasant, but Jim and Tyler make a point of reciprocating that openness and transparency. They are Facebook friends, and somehow it’s comforting knowing a little bit about their lives too! As you begin searching for disability insurance, skip the salesmen (been there, done that!) and reach out to Doctors Disability Specialists:

How did you select your disability insurance plan? Which riders did you include? Comment below!

DISCLOSURE: This is a sponsored post by Doctors Disability Specialists. All reviews and opinions expressed in this post are based on my personal view.


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