Our Thinking

Insights to help you protect your career and family.

Guide to Disability Insurance for Physicians

By: Kendra Henderson
Physician Insurance Specialist

25% of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled at some point during their career

Fact Sheet: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), September 2022

What Is Disability Insurance?

Disability insurance is designed to replace a portion of your monthly income if you are unable to work due to an illness or injury. The monthly benefit from disability insurance can help cover expenses, maintain your standard of living, and provide financial stability until you return to work.

Think of disability insurance as income protection — something that helps keep your larger financial plan intact. You and your family deserve this kind of protection, and you can depend on AMA Insurance Agency, Inc. to offer coverage that works for physicians.

One in seven American workers are disabled for five years or more during their working years.

Policygenius, November 3, 2022

Why AMA Insurance?

AMA Insurance is a good choice for disability because we understand the unique needs of physicians like you. Your work is unique, and your insurance coverage should reflect that.

Another reason AMA Insurance is a smart choice, we tap into the power of more than one million physicians to offer you competitive rates and benefits from top insurance companies.  Plus, we offer a variety of plans for physicians, from individual coverage to employer-group plans – all tailored to the medical profession.  We even offer plans to address unique circumstances or situations.  And our non-commissioned Insurance Specialists provide unbiased advice, to help you find the right plan (or plans) that best fit your needs.

Why You Can’t Afford to Be Without This Insurance

Nearly one in four people entering their working years today will become disabled at some point in their career. Illness, not injuries, accounts for the overwhelming majority of disabilities.

Disability Insurance Protects Your Most Important Asset — Your Income

Even if you are an exceedingly cautious person who has enjoyed robust health, you never know when you might need disability insurance to cover a long-term absence from work. Disability insurance can be a lifeline in your time of need, helping you get through a period when you are unable to earn an income.

What Should I Look for in a Policy?

First, a good choice for disability insurance is a policy designed specifically for physicians, such as those offered by AMA Insurance. A sound strategy for physicians’ income protection requires certain features and benefits that you may not find in an off-the-shelf disability product. This guide highlights the features you should consider when shopping for disability income insurance.

Is the Policy Non-Cancelable and Guaranteed Renewable?

A non-cancelable and guaranteed renewable policy provides considerable security, since the insurance company can’t raise your premium or cancel the policy as long as you pay the premiums when due. When the policy is “guaranteed renewable,” premiums can increase under certain circumstances. Non-cancelable and guaranteed renewable policies are generally more expensive than other types of disability income insurance.

Understand How Disability Is Defined

When you buy disability coverage, you’re essentially buying the insurance company’s definition of disability.  Here are a few of the more popular definitions to consider in physician-specific disability plans:

Own-Occupation — This refers to the occupation or medical specialty you were working in just prior to your disability. If your “own occupation” is protected, the policy will pay benefits even if you can work in another occupation. This is sometimes referred to as “regular occupation” or “your occupation.”

Modified Own-Occupation — You would typically be eligible for total disability benefits when you are unable to perform the material and substantial duties of your occupation solely due to injury or sickness and you are not gainfully employed during the elimination period. After you return to work benefits are reduced based upon other income received.

True Own-Occupation — With this definition, you can work in another occupation/medical specialty and still be eligible for full disability benefits. Your benefits would not be reduced based on other income received in another specialty or occupation. Typically, you would be considered totally disabled if, solely due to injury or sickness, you are unable to perform the material and substantial duties of your occupation/medical specialty.

The true own-occupation definition is considered by most financial professionals to be the strongest definition for physicians.  However, it’s also the most expensive of the three definitions.

Some policies may begin with an own-specialty definition of disability and after a period of time (such as two years) may change to an any-occupation definition of disability.

Other Important Terms and Features

Elimination Period — The elimination period is the number of days you must be disabled before policy benefits become payable. Common options are 60 days, 90 days, 180 days, and 365 days. The longer the elimination period, the lower the premium. The most popular elimination period is 90 days. Some plans won’t pay benefits if you work during the elimination period, making a shorter elimination period desirable.

Maximum Benefit Period — This is the maximum period of time for which benefits are paid for any one period of disability. Typical options are 2 years, 5 years, to age 65, to age 67, and to age 70. The longer the benefit period, the higher the premium.

Residual Disability Provision or Rider —  Not all disabilities are “total”. You may suffer a residual disability that limits your ability to work and results in decreased income. A residual benefit protects you when you are only partially disabled. If you are sick or injured and have a loss of income but still working in the same occupation, you would be eligible to receive a benefit equal to the percentage of your lost income.

Guaranteed Increase Option Rider — A guaranteed increase option allows the policyowner to buy additional disability insurance in the future with no medical underwriting. This is useful for a person who expects their future income to increase and wants a guaranteed option to obtain more coverage. This rider is especially important for residents, fellows, and physicians who have recently started in practice.

Cost of Living Adjustment Rider (COLA) – The cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increases your monthly disability benefit each year you are on claim to offset inflation. The increase is either fixed (i.e. 3% or 6%) or based on the Consumer Price Index. COLA is most important for physicians under age 40 because of the possible years a claim might be active. Some physicians purchase a policy with a COLA rider but remove it (reducing their premium) as they get older.

Catastrophic (CAT) Disability Benefit Rider — Some injuries or illnesses have devastating consequences. With a catastrophic disability, you have complete, irrecoverable and irreparable loss of: (i) the use of both hands, or both feet, or one hand and one foot; the sight in both eyes; speech; or hearing in both ears; or (ii) are totally disabled due to Alzheimer’s disease or other irreversible form of senility or dementia; or (iii) are totally disabled and have Aphasia; Hemiparesis; Paraplegia; or Quadriplegia.

In the event you become catastrophically disabled, a “CAT rider” would provide an additional disability benefit on top of your regular disability benefit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Show All Hide All

When buying disability income insurance, you should consider your current income, ongoing living expenses, as well as other disability benefits you might receive — like employer offered coverage or any individual coverage you already own — and then choose a monthly benefit accordingly. An insurance specialist knowledgeable in physician disability insurance can help you assess your needs and options. Remember, buying disability insurance isn’t a one-time event, it’s important to evaluate your coverage throughout your career.

Benefits generally will not be paid for a disability:
• Caused or contributed to by an act of war, whether declared or undeclared
• Due to pregnancy or childbirth (most policies do cover complications of pregnancy)
• Due to your committing or attempting to commit a felony
• Existing while you are legally incarcerated or detained
• Caused by an intentionally self-inflicted injury

In addition, a pre-existing medical condition may be excluded from coverage. Depending on the condition, the exclusion may be permanent or temporary.

Disability coverage through work is a cost-effective way to protect yourself against a disability. But it may have limitations, so adding individual disability insurance makes good financial sense. Here are some reasons why:
• Employer-provided group plans typically cover 60% of gross income, and monthly disability payments are usually taxable. Benefits may also be reduced by “offsets” such as Social Security, pension benefits, workers’ compensation, income earned in a different job, other group insurance, etc.
• Employer-provided group disability benefits are not guaranteed, nor are they portable. If you change jobs or if your employer changes or cancels the group disability contract, you could lose your benefits.
• Many employer-provided group disability plans pay benefits based on very narrow definitions of disability or change the definition of disability after a period of time. Some will not pay if you are able perform the duties of ANY job. Supplementing your employer-provided disability income insurance with a plan that includes an “own-specialty”, or “true own-specialty” definition of disability provides stronger income protection.
If you are looking to purchase an employer-group disability plan, look for physician-specific features – like those found in plans offered by AMA Insurance.

The cost depends on a number of factors including your age, gender, the state you live in, and the type of coverage you are purchasing. Some plans also consider medical specialty when determining rates. Individual disability insurance plans tend to be more expensive while association group insurance plans may be more competitively priced, making AMA-sponsored Disability Income Insurance a good choice for your shortlist of options.

Yes, look for discounts like these:
• Multiple Employee Discounts — When three or more people working for the same employer purchase a disability policy at the same time, each employee can save 10% to 15% . Larger groups of physicians may be eligible for even bigger discounts.
• Association Discounts — Members of certain medical associations can save on their premiums.

Kendra Henderson is a Physician Insurance Specialist at AMA Insurance. She specializes in disability and life insurance and works with physicians and their families at every career stage. Kendra is licensed to sell insurance in all 50 states and has helped hundreds of physicians nationally with their disability coverage.

© 2024 AMA Insurance Agency, Inc.

[1] Struthi , Dr. M.,  What Are the Leading Causes of Disability, MedicineNet, https://www.medicinenet.com/what_are_the_leading_causes_of_disability/article.htm Viewed 3/20/24