When discussing disability, most dentists will immediately ask about disability insurance.  Disability insurance is definitely the 800 pound gorilla in the room when discussing a disabled dentist. Do you have any disability insurance?   Won’t it take care of everything?   YOU WILL BE FINE!

Nothing could be further from the truth.  First of all, approximately 20% of dentist do not carry any disability insurance policies at all. This is very accurate data, and we cannot begin to tell you the number of sad cases we have encountered over the past years when a practitioner has become disabled with no policy in place. Some of the more depressing cases are those where senior dentists have dropped their policies because they thought they didn’t need them anymore. Disabling accidents or illnesses immediately followed.

To begin with, disability insurance is the single most important insurance issue you will encounter. You have a documented  chance of 20-30%  of becoming disabled during your working career. Not the best odds. You are more likely to become disabled than die young. Look at disability insurance as a long-term investment. You have a reasonable chance to collect on this investment, just don’t look for an immediate pay out. Your monthly disability premium should be the easiest check for you to sign. All those years invested in your training, education, and academic pursuits are tied to that policy. In addition, your personal happiness and welfare of your family may someday be DEPENDENT on that disability policy.

If you are at risk to become disabled ( this essentially means everyone) or if you are in the market for a policy there are recommendations that we can propose. First, you need to get a policy immediately. You continued health cannot be counted on, and it could change at any time. This doesn’t mean you have only hours to decide, but maybe it does. Each person needs to make a decision on timing.  The decision on whether to purchase a policy is yours. Don’t be foolish, be smart and make a good decision for your family. If you are already ill, having back or neck pain, or engage in risky sporting activities, get online and start researching policies/companies now.

Remember, you will need to have a documented disability. Involve medical experts after you purchase your policy. Understand that you may need to submit to a qualifying physical exam. In addition you will be required to sign legal documents concerning your current and past health status. The penalties for fraud are stiff and all claims are carefully verified continuously by disability insurance companies. This is just one of the reasons to get a great policy early in your career. DENTAL STUDENTS-please pay attention.

Will disability insurance take care of everything?  Be assured, it will definitely help. Disability insurance is designed to cover only a portion of your current income. Disabled dentists early in their careers may find it difficult to stay financially afloat. We have discussed in previous posts the recommendation to carry 2 policies. This option is always open to you. Of course, wise financial planning is helpful; but cannot always be counted on.  Disability insurance will not take the place of your staff, practice, and patients. The personal investment you have made in your dental career is huge, and no amount of money can replace the ties you have made to the profession. Be prepared for a significant amount of separation anxiety. Make no mistake, your disability payments will definitely help in you transition. They give your past sacrifices some real value.

To begin with, there is no best dental disability company. There are many firms currently offering this product, and each company has its strengths and weaknesses. Take your time and carefully research the market. Look at the company longevity and past complaint history. Each firm will have an insurance rating and only consider those with the top ratings. Look at a company’s ratings by independent rating services such as A.M. Best, Standard&Poor’s, and Moody’s Investor Service.  Do your homework and carefully research the topic of dental disability insurance. We guarantee that this is one time that you GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. This is absolutely not the time to cut corners. Purchase the best policy that you can afford.

Remember, there are many different types of disability policies.  We are discussing private personal disability policies that you purchase individually.  They are the best if purchased with post tax dollars.  This way you AVOID PAYING ANY INCOME TAX FOREVER on your disability payments. If you are already covered on a group policy from your employer, strongly consider purchasing your own personal policy.  They are so much better and offer great options.  Don’t ever rely on SSI (Social Security Disability), you can’t even make a car payment on the benefits available;  IF they approve your claim.

Start with the definition of disability. Look for policy that pays a benefit if you are unable to work in your own occupation (DENTISTRY). Make sure this definition does not change after a few years. Insist that it be indefinite.  This is absolutely required and avoid any policy that refers to any occupation and will not pay you if you can work in another field.  By insisting on an OWN OCCUPATION  policy you ensure the right to return to work in another field.  You can teach, consult, or start a business and still collect your disability payments every month. It doesn’t take much to disable you, even a minor hand/neck injury that another profession can adjust to;  could be devastating to a dentist.

Insist on a policy that is guaranteed non-cancellable and renewable. Once you have this type of policy they can never take it away no matter what happens in regard to your health. Just pay the monthly premiums on time and wait.

Options or riders are usually offered along with your base policy. WE RECOMMEND YOU PURCHASE EVERY RIDER AVAILABLE.  It will cost you in additional premium payments, but this is where the real value arrives in private disability policies. Of course they will need to fit in your budget, but as we stated this is the point where you either sink or swim. Examples of various riders included RESIDUAL BENEFITS that will pay you if you can only work part-time or at a limited efficiency. Another option will allow you to increase your benefits without having to undergo a medical exam. Newer options will even pay your 401K payments in addition to your monthly benefits. A cost of living option(COLA) is very beneficial and will keep your benefits in pace with inflation.  Make every effort to get the highest monthly benefit you are eligible for, and ensure you can purchase additional benefits. Many policies will terminate at age 65-67, strongly consider lifetime or renewable policies to 70 or beyond.  How long will you live?  How long do you plan to work?These are important questions to ask.

Read your contract policy carefully. Go over each page slowly and deliberately with your agent. Remember your sales agent may be a great person, but nothing verbally or implied in your negotiations with your disability company is legally enforceable. They will strictly follow what is in writing, and you have the entire legal system on your side should any dispute occur.  If you are ever disabled, you will be glad you insisted on a quality plan.  Review your policy every other year with your spouse and lock it up in your safe. DON’T IGNORE THE GORILLA, JUST SAY HI! AND MOVE ON WITH YOUR LIFE AND PRACTICE.