Sunday, April 10, 2016

Physician Advocacy: Disability Coverage for the EP

Photo Credit: Flickr - Zeevveez
Author: Linda Sanders, MD
Temple University Hospital
Originally Published: Modern Resident February-March 2016

As a new generation of residents prepares to enter private and academic practice as attending emergency physicians, most intend to practice emergency medicine for the next 30 years, maybe more. But in an environment that demands that we have fine motor skills, quick decision making abilities, fast communication and the ability to practice at least eight hours a day, a physical or mental ailment can make one incapable of EM practice. The incidence of disability among practicing physicians is around 2-10%.[2]

As physicians, our greatest asset is our future earning potential. Thus it’s important to be informed about disability insurance, the minutia of the language within these policies, and what the options are for coverage from employers as compared to group or individual policies.

In terms of eligibility for these insurance policies, young, healthy, full-time physicians are most eligible. Policies place exclusions on pre-existing conditions and mental illness.[3] Additionally they are priced based on age; so purchasing disability insurance earlier is better. There are also special offers only available to residents.

The most important aspect of any physician disability insurance policy is an Own-Occupation definition of disability, meaning that if you cannot practice emergency medicine you are considered disabled. Be aware that there are variations of this definition, which provide less coverage or change the definition after a certain number of years.

The ideal policy is non-cancelable and guaranteed renewable, meaning that they cannot cancel your policy or raise your premiums. Also take into account the waiting period before you are eligible to receive benefits, as this can be anywhere between 30 days to a year. Residual disability defines the length of coverage and the benefit amount, which are obviously important aspects, but a cost of living adjustment (COLA rider) is also important to ensure that your income increases every year to account for inflation. Be aware that employer provided benefits are not typically portable whereas individual policies will move with you to your new job.

Many physicians are quick to purchase life insurance, but often fail to consider the fact that one is much more likely to become disabled than die a premature death. Thus, seek coverage early when you are eligible for the most benefits and may avoid financial catastrophe in the future.

  1. Binder DS, Sklar DP. Disability issues in emergency physicians. Ann Emerg Med 2008 Jun; 51(6): 732-736.
  2. DeLisa JA, Thomas P. Physicians with disabilities and the physician workforce: a need to reassess out policies. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2005;84:5-11.
  3. Mcnamara RM, Ufberg JW. Emergency physician hiring practices: The effects of certain conditions on employability. J Emerg Med 2000; 18(1): 17-20.
  4. Ruffing MS. Disability insurance for emergency physicians: What you need to know, now!,-now!

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