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Disability Insurance



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The Ultimate Resource Guide to Disability Insurance

Working with disability insurance clients over the last 18 years, we have answered every question in the book. To help streamline the process for you, we’ll review the most common conversations we’ve had over the years.

Looking for a personalized disability insurance consultation? We’re ready to answer all of your questions. Give us a call at 440-871-3067.

Disability Insurance FAQs

Q: What is the elimination period?

A: In disability insurance, the elimination period is the length of time between when an injury or illness begins and the time you start receiving benefit payments. Elimination periods can be 30, 60, 90, 180, 365 or 720 days. The standard is 90 days. The longer your elimination period is, the less expensive your plan will be.

Q: What is the benefit period?

A: The disability insurance benefit period is the maximum length of time for which a disability benefit is paid. Examples in the marketplace today are 5-year, 10-year, to age 65, to age 67, to age 70 and lifetime benefit. Lifetime benefits are the most expensive benefits while 5-year are the least expensive.

Q: How much does disability insurance cost?

A: As a general rule of thumb, an individual plan will you between 1.5% and 3% of your income. This is assuming you would like to have 60-70% of your income covered by each year. Keep in mind that premiums are based on your occupation class and the cost of riders or any other additional features you put on your individual plan.


Q: How much disability insurance am I eligible for?

A: For every $100,000 of income you make, you are eligible to receive around $5,000 of monthly benefit. If you are a physician in your residency or fellowship, most insurance companies will extend you $6,000 a month of disability insurance benefits with the ability to purchase more disability insurance coverage when you enter practice without any further medical examination requirements.

Q: How many different definitions of disability are in the marketplace?

A: There are 6 definitions of disability. We will go over the top 3 most common definitions.

  • Own-Occupation-
    Benefits are paid if you are unable to work in your own occupation due to a sickness or injury, even if you choose to work in another occupation. As a physician, you would want to select a carrier that offers a specialty letter for your occupation.

  • Own-Occupation, Not Working-
    Benefits are paid if you are unable to work in your own occupation due to a sickness or injury and if you’re not working in another occupation.

  • 5-year Own-Occupation, Not Working -
    For the first five years, benefits are paid if you are unable to work in your own occupation due to a sickness or injury, even if you chose to work in another occupation. After five years, if you are still disabled from your own occupation and not working in another occupation, benefits are payable. 

Q: Is my plan portable? When I leave my residency or fellowship program, does my plan come with me?

A: Most individual disability insurance plans are fully portable. Your plan will stay with you as long as you pay the premiums for your entire working career.

Q: How do I ensure that my premiums remain the same?

A: If you choose a non-cancelable, renewable policy, your premiums will be guaranteed throughout your entire working career. 

Q: What happens when I exercise my Future Increase Option or Guaranteed Insurability Option?

A: When you exercise your FIO or GIO, at most carriers, it should be the exact same disability insurance plan that your originally applied for. You have to be careful though, because some carriers do not allow you to purchase your original plan. Instead, they allow you to purchase whatever coverage they are offering at the time you exercise your FIO or GIO. I would not recommend that you purchase disability plans like these.

Q: What if I recover from a sickness or injury, then become disabled again two months later by the same sickness or injury?

A: If you have a relapse of your sickness or injury within one year of your original sickness or injury, you will not have to exercise the 90-day elimination period again. 

Q: What type of agent should I speak to about purchasing a disability insurance policy?

A: An independent insurance agent that can represent almost every company in the disability insurance space. A captive agent can only sell one carrier, which may not be in your best interest.  An independent insurance agent that represents the “Big 6” is highly recommended

Q: What are the big six companies I should look for as a physician?

A: There are many companies in the disability insurance business, but there are only a few that specialize in the physician market.  These companies are:

  • Ameritas

  • Guardian

  • Mass Mutual

  • Ohio National

  • Principal

  • Standard 

These carriers will have slight differences in premiums, riders, policy language, etc. Your qualified independent insurance agent will go over all the differences amongst these plans. 

Q: Does working with an insurance agent cost me more money?

A: No. Whether you work with an agent or not, the premiums for your disability insurance will remain the same.

Q: How much disability insurance can I qualify for as a resident/fellow?

A: For most disability insurance carriers, will issue as much as $6,000 for a month.  

Q: As a medical resident/fellow, does my group disability insurance count against me in the calculations for what I’m allowed to participate in?

A: No. As a resident/fellow, group disability insurance does not count against the calculation for issue and participation limits. If you are an attending physician, group disability insurance will offset some of your monthly benefit when you purchase individual disability insurance. 

Q: What is a Residual Disability Insurance Rider?

A: A basic disability insurance policy pays if you are unable to work due to a sickness or injury. However, not all disabilities are total. Sometimes you can return to work on a limited or partial basis, either working less hours or performing limited duties. Both may leave you with a loss of income.  A Residual Disability Rider can help protect your income in these situations.  Riders usually carry an additional cost to your disability insurance plan.

Q: What other types riders are offered for individual for disability insurance?

A: The most common types of add-on riders available include:

  • Enhanced Residual Disability Benefit

  • Basic Residual Disability Benefit

  • Catastrophic Disability Rider (CAT)

  • Future Increase Options (FIO) or Guaranteed Insurability Option (GIO) Rider

  • Student Loan Repayment Rider

Features and Benefits of Disability Insurance That Usually at No-Charge: Other features and benefits of disability insurance that usually come at no charge include:

  • Built-in Recovery Benefit Feature

  • Non-Disabling Injury Benefit

  • Good Health Benefit

  • COBRA Premium Benefit

To learn more about each option available, visit our Disability Riders and Benefits page.

Q: Will I have any exclusions on my disability insurance policy?

A: This all depends on your current health when you purchase your disability insurance.  Typically, an exclusion rider will state that benefits are not payable for disabilities resulting from a named condition (ex. injury to, disease or disorder of an area or part of the body). The intent of the rider is to exclude or restrict coverage for a known pre-existing condition or a condition that predisposes you to potential disability.

Q: Is a disability from Coronavirus covered under my plan?

A: As we face the current developments surrounding the Coronavirus situation, we understand the concern of the American public.  If you test positive for Coronavirus, you must qualify for the following criteria when considering a disability claim.

First, you must be unable to work due to a diagnosed sickness of a sufficient length of time to satisfy the eliminations/waiting periods of your disability insurance policy. Other criteria include but are not limited to:

  • Is the policy definition of disability met?

  • Is an attending physician certifying the disabling condition?

  • Are you under the appropriate care of a physician for the condition?

Q: If I have not been diagnosed with the Coronavirus, but my employer is closing for an unknown amount of time or I am not working in order to prevent contracting the virus, can I file a disability claim?

A: A disability is characterized as a diagnosed sickness or injury that prevents you from working.  If you choose not to go to work or you’re not allowed to work under the instructions of your employer or local federal government, you would not meet the basic policy requirements of a disability. 

Q: Does my plan cover me if I contract HIV or Hepatitis?

A: Depending on the carrier and the language, some disability plans cover you if you were to contract HIV or hepatis and cannot work.

Q: What is occupation class?

A: This is one of the determining factors on how the insurance company determine the premium rates of your individual disability insurance. Every company views occupation classes somewhat differently and may label the classes uniquely. Generally speaking, the higher the numerical value, the lower the rate of insurance will be (notwithstanding other factors like age, health and income). The “M” designation is for medical professionals. The least expensive occupation class is a 6M.


Examples of 6M include:

  • Internal Medicine

  • Family Medicine Physicians

  • Pulmonologists


5M includes:

  • Cardiologists

  • Endodontists

  • Orthopedic Surgeons

  • Addiction Medicine


4M includes:

  • Emergency Room Physicians

  • Dentists

  • Anesthesiologists


3M includes:

  • Surgical Assistants

  • Occupational Therapists

  • Nurse Anesthetists


2M includes:

  • Podiatrists

  • Acupuncturists

  • Registered Nurses


Q: Will my disability benefits be taxable?

A: How you pay your premium determines if your benefits are taxable. If you pay your premium with pre-tax dollars, or if your employer pays your premium, then your benefits would be taxable. If you pay your premiums after-tax, meaning you don’t run your premiums through a corporation or section 125k plan, then your benefits would be tax-free.


Q: How do I determine which disability insurance I need?

A: Ask yourself these questions:

  • How much income would you need to support your family if you could no longer work due to illness or accident?

  • How long could you go without a paycheck before it becomes difficult to pay your bills?

  • How would you afford to pay your mortgage or rent if your paycheck stopped?

  • What’s the most important asset you have?

  • You insure your car and your home, why not your paycheck?


Q: Should I have a medical specialty with my own-occupation definition of disability insurance?

A: An Own-Occupation definition of total disability focuses on your medical specialty. As outlined in your disability insurance policy. Your occupation means the occupation or occupations that you were engaged in, based on the duties you were performing for wage or profit at the time disability began.

Here are two examples of specialty letter Own-Occupation:

  •  A dentist has a medical condition that results in uncontrollable hand tremors which prevent her from performing the substantial duties of her occupation. She then elects to teach at a local dental college. In this example, the dentist would be entitled to receive the full disability benefit under her disability policy in addition to receiving the income form the teaching position. 

  • A surgeon becomes disabled due to a back problem that prevents him from standing for a length of time. The surgeon, who is unable to perform surgery due to the disability, then elects to become the medical director of a local insurance company. The surgeon would be entitled to collect the full disability benefit under his disability policy in addition to receiving the income from the medical director position.


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