Long-Term Disability: Dentists Should Take a Proactive Approach
When was the last time you reviewed your long-term disability (LTD) coverage? If you’re like most dental professionals, it’s been a while—and there’s a good chance you’ve outgrown your coverage. The COVID-19 pandemic has painfully reminded us how an unexpected pause in your practice can be catastrophic. That’s why I’m encouraging you to review your policy and take a proactive approach to disability planning.
Dentists Face a High Likelihood of Disability
Dentistry takes a toll on your body. Even if you’re not stooping all day, research shows that a dentist’s static posture, use of hand tools, repetitive motions, stress, and other factors cause lead to serious health issues. At least 81% of dentists experience back, neck, shoulder, or arm pain, according to several studies.
When you factor in other common illnesses, injuries, and age-related conditions, such as coronary artery disease, diabetes, and cancer, it’s no surprise that at least 25% of dental professionals eventually apply for disability benefits.
- RELATED: Dentists and Long-Term Disability
What You Should Look for in a Long-Term Disability Policy
Rather than simply relying on an insurance agent, it’s a good idea to read the terms and conditions of your policy (or consult with an experienced disability insurance lawyer). You can find all of your policy’s essential language in the policy itself if you purchased a policy on your own or your long-term disability Plan Document and Summary Plan Description (SPD) if your coverage is through your practice. As you review these documents, make sure you understand the following points.
How It Defines “Disability” and “Own Occupation”
You have probably heard that an “own occupation” policy, where you are eligible for benefits if you cannot perform your actual job, is the best option for dentists. While true, this description just scratches the surface of what’s involved in this type of policy.
Instead of just looking for an “own occupation” policy, carefully review the details.
- Some policies will transition from “own occupation” to a more rigorous standard after a few years. If your policy eventually converts into an “any occupation” plan, the insurance company might try to terminate your benefit payments.
- Look for policies that allow you to work in fields outside of dentistry and narrowly define your occupation. Otherwise, you might run into problems later.
Waiting or Elimination Periods
Every long-term disability plan has an elimination or waiting period that must expire before you’ll receive a benefit payment. Policies with longer elimination periods typically have lower premiums, so many young dentists opt for them. However, when you are disabled, a six-month waiting period might be financially impossible to manage.
Ask yourself: how long can you comfortably live without consistent income? If your answer is significantly shorter than your plan’s elimination period, it’s time to update your coverage.
Monthly Benefit Payment and Optional Riders
According to 2007 survey performed by The McGill Advisory, many dental professionals have inadequate disability insurance. Many purchased a bare-bones policy when they started out and never revisited its terms. Your policy might have met your needs years ago, but you’ve likely outgrown it.
The average dentist in private practice earned $204,710 in 2019, and the average specialist made $343,410. That’s a monthly income of more than $17,000 and $28,600, respectively. If your LTD policy pays you a $5,000 monthly benefit, it will not maintain your current lifestyle and cover your bills. Make sure that your long-term disability policy will provide you with meaningful financial stability.
One way you can proactively plan for your future is with COLA (cost-of-living) or future insurability riders. A COLA rider will adjust your monthly benefit payments to reflect the rate of inflation. In comparison, a future insurability rider will let you purchase additional coverage without another medical examination. (Future insurability riders are a wise addition to your policy if you’re relatively young and in good health.)
Whether Partial Benefits Are Available
Some policies will pay a partial or residual benefit if you can return to work part-time or in a different role—and are a smart addition to your policy. For example, suppose degenerative issues in your hands prevent you from working as a dentist, but you find work as a consultant or at a dental school. If you’re making less than you did as a practicing dentist, your long-term disability policy might make up some of the difference. (Some policies will even pay a full monthly benefit if you cannot perform dentistry, but these are rarer.)
RELATED: What Is Private Disability Insurance (And Do I Need Coverage)?
Considering Filing an LTD Claim? Get Organized
If it’s becoming hard to care for your patients due to a health issue, it might be time to file a disability insurance claim. In addition to understanding your policy’s terms, you’ll need to get organized. LTD claims require extensive information about your diagnoses, limitations, daily routine, and other factors that might impact your claim.
As you prepare to file for disability insurance benefits, take you time and collect your evidence. You’ll want to compile:
- Important dates concerning your claim, such as the dates of your diagnoses, significant hospitalization, medical procedures, and when you could no longer work
- The names and contact information for all of your medical providers
- Copies of your relevant medical records
- Supporting information from your providers, such as detailed letters about your conditions and capabilities
If you are looking for specific tools and worksheets, Bryant Legal Group offers a free guidebook.
Even better, consult with a respected disability lawyer. An attorney can help you build your case, identify potential stumbling blocks, and guide you through every step of the claim process.
Looking for Personalized Advice From an Insurance Lawyer?
Bryant Legal Group: Trusted by Dental Professionals in Chicago and Beyond
Bryant Legal Group takes a solution-oriented approach to disability insurance law. We guide dentists and other medical professionals through their complex insurance claims, giving them the information and advice they need. We have recovered millions in benefits and compensation for our clients.
To schedule your free consultation with a member of our team, call us at 312-634-6415 or complete our online form.
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2019 income, gross billings, and expenses. (2020, November). American Dental Association. Retrieved from https://www.ada.org/en/science-research/health-policy-institute/data-center/dental-practice
Alexopoulos, E. C., Stathi, I. C., & Charizani, F. (2004). Prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders in dentists. BMC musculoskeletal disorders, 5, 16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15189564/
Disability income protection insurance plan. (n.d.) American Dental Association. Retrieved from https://www.insurance.ada.org/ada-insurance-plans/disability-insurance.aspx
Survey reveals doctors making mistakes with disability and business overhead insurance coverages. (2007, December). The McGill Advisory. Retrieved from https://www.mcgillhillgroup.com/Article/242/Survey-Reveals-Doctors-Making-Mistakes-With-Disability-and-Business-Overhead-Insurance-Coverages
Valachi B, Valachi K. Mechanisms leading to musculoskeletal disorders in dentistry. J Am Dent Assoc. 2003 Oct;134(10):1344-50. doi: 10.14219/jada.archive.2003.0048. PMID: 14620013.
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