by Gary Fegan
An accident or illness can strike at any time- without warning! As a surgeon, are you prepared to have your working career cut short? Can you and your family survive financially if your income were to come to a screeching halt due to a disability? You have studied and worked so hard to become a surgeon and reap the rewards of your efforts. There are a number of surgeons who do not insure against the possibility of a disability eliminating their income- their ability to pay their families’ bills- This can financially devastate anyone!
As a surgeon, you know that all it would take is a simple hand injury to put you right out of practice- and this can happen as easily as a door slamming on your hand, an injury on the basketball court, or just playing with your child in the backyard- Hand injuries are very common The following are a few hand problems that would likely eliminate surgery as an occupation following a disability:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome- compression of a nerve as it goes through the wrist, often making your fingers feel numb
- Injuries that result in fractures, ruptured ligaments and dislocations
- Osteoarthritis- wear-and-tear arthritis, which can also cause deformity
- Tendinitis - irritation of the tendons
These issues result in a very good number of disabilities, and as a surgeon, you realize the dire need to use both of your hands at 100% capacity to do your job efficiently and effectively.
Equally as common are back problems- and as a surgeon, you need to be on your feet and may not be able to perform your duties as a surgeon if you have a bad back. The following are a handful of issues relating to back problems that could cause surgeons to become disabled and not be able to perform surgery:
- Strained muscles or ligaments
- Lifting something improperly or that is too heavy
- The result of an abrupt and awkward movement
- A muscle spasm.
- Ruptured disks - If a disk ruptures there will be more pressure on a nerve, resulting in back pain.
- Bulging disks - in much the same way as ruptured disks, a bulging disk can result in more pressure on a nerve.
- Sciatica - a sharp and shooting pain that travels through the buttock and down the back of the leg, caused by a bulging or herniate disk, pressing on a nerve.
- Arthritis – Someone with osteoarthritis commonly experience problems with the joints in the hips, lower back, knees and hands.
- Abnormal curvature of the spine - if the spine curves in an unusual way a someone is more likely to experience back pain. An example is scoliosis, when the spine curves to the side.
- Osteoporosis - bones, including the vertebrae of the spine, become brittle and porous, making compression fractures more likely.
There are an almost infinite number of ways that one can become disabled- there are accidents, illnesses, stress and other mental issues. You need to be prepared for the possibility of a disability and can do so through obtaining the best possible disability coverage for surgeons- The policy must be a true own-occupation definition of disability with specialty specific language.
What this means is that the policy should state that solely due to injury or sickness, you are not able to perform the material and substantial duties of your occupation. You will be totally disabled even if you are gainfully employed in another occupation. If you have limited your occupation to the performance of the material and substantial duties of a single medical specialty, or sub-specialty, the policy should deem that specialty or sub-specialty to be your occupation.
There are many real life scenarios to consider when thinking about whether you need disability insurance, and if so, whether you need true own-occupation or not. We had a client, Henry, a 51 year old neurosurgeon that was earning $500,000 per year. He was in a tragic car accident while on the way to pick up his son from practice. His injuries consisted of compound fractures in both legs and severe injury to the left side of his upper body. He was left with minimal sensation on his left side and specifically in his left hand.
Consequently, he was unable to perform his duties as a neurosurgeon. As a result of the accident, the two primary concerns mentioned above for a surgeon were realized- the use of your hand(s) and the ability to stand to perform the procedures.
The question to ask would be, what would happen to Henry and his family when the income stopped? - Without disability coverage, the family would likely be destitute in short order. Thankfully, he did have coverage and it stepped in to replace his income while out on a disability claim- The carrier paid him under their presumptive disability feature (because he did not have use of his two legs for a period of tie), thus he began receiving his $12,500 benefit without satisfying the elimination period and is continuing to receive benefits today. The benefits will increase to $18,356 if he remains disabled to age 65.
The increase in benefit is due to the annual COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment Rider) adjustments on his policy of 3% compounded each year for the life of his claim through the end of the benefit period. This allows Henry and his family to help keep up with inflation.1
Furthermore, the need for an own-occupation disability policy is revealed with Henry as well. The own-occupation feature allows him to receive benefits while on claim and earn a living doing anything other than neurosurgery. He did not want to sit idly and collect benefits, so he began working from home reviewing medical records for Worker Compensation claims that pertain specifically to neurological injuries. This is what he chose to do, but you can do whatever it is that you would enjoy.
Most people that are out on claim really do not want to sit around and collect a benefit- so to be able to earn a living while collecting disability benefits, you want a true own-occupation definition of total disability. It is very important because it will consider you totally disabled if solely due to sickness or injury, you cannot perform the material and substantial duties of your occupation even if you choose to work in some other occupation.
As a surgeon, you may have a specialty or sub-specialty and some contracts also offer specialty specific language that state if your occupation is limited to the performance of the material and substantial duties of a single medical specialty, then that specialty will be deemed as your occupation. If you are totally disabled, and you are able to work in another occupation, you may do so and still be eligible for your total disability benefits. Not every disability insurance policy will consider you totally disabled if you continue your monthly benefits should you decide to work in another occupation. Be sure to read the definition of total disability carefully on all quotes and policies.