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Do Doctors Need Own Occupation Disability Insurance?

Insurance isn’t always the most interesting, but if there is one type of insurance physicians like you need to pay particular attention to, it’s own-occupation disability insurance. This policy will replace your salary if you end up disabled and can longer work. Today, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about own-occupation in a disability insurance policy.

What is Own-Occupation Disability Insurance?

Own-occupation disability insurance is a policy you can purchase to supplement your employer-sponsored disability insurance. Own-occupation means you can still work in another field, but you cannot perform the duties of your medical specialty. For example, a surgeon who loses partial use of their hand cannot perform their duties as a surgeon, but they may be able to work in an office setting or in another medical capacity. The point with own-occupation is that whether they work somewhere else or not, if they have an own-occupation physician disability insurance policy, they’ll receive benefits.

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How Does Own-Occupation Define Disabled?

What does “permanently disabled” mean in the insurance world? The answer depends on your medical specialty and your individual insurance policy. In general, with an own-occupation policy, any incident or condition that causes you to no longer be able to perform the duties within your specialty is considered disabled. Your specific insurance contract will list out the exact definition, so make sure to read the fine print before signing. If you have any questions, clarify them with your insurance agent or consider hiring a disability insurance attorney. After all, the worst-case scenario is being denied benefits because you didn't understand the legal language! Typically, though, you’ll find language in your policy that goes something like this:

You will be considered totally disabled if you are unable to perform the material and substantial duties of your occupation, even if you are gainfully employed in another occupation.

Click here to talk to a physician disability insurance specialist!

Types of Own-Occupation Disability Insurance

There are a few different types of own-occupation insurance that you’ll want to look into before deciding on your final policy.

True own-occupation disability

True own-occupation disability insurance is the most comprehensive form of own-occupation insurance, meaning it’s also the more expensive policy option. This one is one of the better options for physicians, though, especially, since it’ll offer wider coverage amounts. True own-occupation may also cover partial disabilities that prevent physicians from doing parts of their job or force them to take on fewer hours.

Modified own-occupation disability insurance

Modified own-occupation policy is much more strict than a true own-occupation policy and is similar to any-occupation insurance (more on that below). It will pay out a benefit only if you are deemed disabled and choose not to work. For example, an ER doctor who can get a job teaching medical students will not receive benefits even if they are unable to work as an ER doctor due to their disability. You must opt to no longer work in any field or else you will not receive modified own-occupation benefits. This is why you’ll also often hear this type of policy called “own-occupation, not-engaged."

Transitional own-occupation disability insurance

Transitional own-occupation disability insurance is very similar to true-occupation. However, it helps make up the difference between your full disability payments and your salary if you should return to work after a disability. For example, say you worked as a surgeon but you were injured and could no longer perform that job. With your disability policy, you get a check for $6,000 each month. If you eventually returned to the work force and went on to teach and made $4,000 each month, a transitional own-occupation policy would pay out $2,000 to get you up to your full payment.

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Own-Occupation vs. Any-Occupation Disability

Own-occupation and any-occupation insurance policies are somewhat similar, but any-occupation is a bit broader and gives the insurance company more power to deny claims. Under the any-occupation definition, you will typically only receive benefits if you are unable to perform any work for which you have been trained, even if it’s not your medical specialty. Any-occupation language in a disability insurance policy will typically look something like this:

You will be considered totally disabled if you are unable to perform all the substantial and material duties of any-occupation for which you are fitted by education, training, and experience.

So the example above with the surgeon who returned to work to teach in the medical field would likely not qualify for benefits under an any-occupation policy since they are still working in a field they were trained, in some respect, for.

Why Doctors Should Have Own-Occupation

If there’s any disability insurance policy a doctor should consider, it’s own-occupation. Think about it: you spent at least eight years in school taking on debt and learning how to practice medicine. One small injury could put an end to that career and suddenly you no longer have access to the income you need and deserve. Own-occupation is an insurance option that allows you to work in another field AND still collect a paycheck from the job you can no longer do. Many disability insurance policies state that you must not have the ability to work in any field to secure benefits, but that’s not the case here.

Cost of an Own-Occupation Disability Insurance Policy

There’s no straightforward answer when it comes to the cost of own-occupation disability insurance. How much you pay depends on the provider you go through and the type of coverage you buy. That said, a disability insurance policy will cost between 2 - 5% of your annual salary. So, if you make $250k a year, you’ll pay between $5 - $12.5k depending on your exact needs. If you ever need to start claiming benefits, you’ll get about 60% of your total annual income. And remember, since you can still work in another field even if you’re unable to work in your specialty, you’ll collect a paycheck from that position as well as 60% of your lost income in disability checks. However, there is often a cap to this 60%. Typically, insurers will pay up to 60% of your income, maxing out at around $15-$17k a month. Still, that’s an impressive amount with any insurance policy.

Compare own occupation disability insurance rates

Let’s apply the own occupation disability insurance definition to a potential scenario: Jim is a surgeon who loves HGTV’s Fixer Upper, and when he is not practicing medicine, he likes to spend time working on his home. One fateful weekend, Jim’s hand slips on a saw and his finger has to be amputated. Jim is no longer able to perform surgery but may be perfectly capable of working in another medical specialty, or even in a completely different occupation outside of medicine.

Under the own occupation disability insurance definition, Jim is unable to perform the material and substantial duties of his own occupation – aka he cannot perform the duties of being a surgeon. If Jim has an own occupation disability insurance policy, he will receive full benefits regardless of whether he chooses to work in another medical specialty or even a different career outside of medicine. This is why the own occupation definition provides the most flexibility for the policyholder and is a critically important feature in disability insurance for doctors.

Compare own occupation disability insurance rates for doctors.

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Own-Occupation Disability Insurance Policies for Doctors

Here’s the exact language in each of the 3 major own-occupation disability insurance policies for doctors.

Ameritas

Total Disability or Totally Disabled means that, solely due to sickness or injury, you are not able to perform the material and substantial duties of your occupation. Your occupation means the occupation that you were engaged in, based on the duties you were performing for wage or profit, at the time disability began. If you are not employed at the time of disability, your occupation means any-occupation you are able to perform based on your education, training and experience. If you are a physician or dentist and have limited your duties to the performance of the usual and customary functions of a specific, professionally recognized medical or dental specialty, we will consider that specialty your occupation.

Ohio National

Total Disability or Totally Disabled: You have a Total Disability or you are Totally Disabled if due to a Sickness or Injury, in and of itself, you are not able to perform the Material and Substantial Duties of Your Regular Occupation, and you satisfy the Regular Care of a Physician provision in the policy. Your Regular Occupation: The occupation(s) in which you are regularly engaged on the date of Disability. If Your Regular Occupation on the date of Disability is limited to a professionally recognized specialty in medicine, dentistry or law within the scope of your degree or license, we will deem that specialty to be Your Regular Occupation. If you are unemployed, retired, or otherwise not working on the date of Disability, Your Regular Occupation means any-occupation you are able to do based on your education, training and experience.

The Standard

Total Disability/Totally Disabled means that due to your Injury or Sickness:

  • Unable to perform the Substantial And Material Duties of your Regular Occupation; and
  • You are under the regular care of a Physician appropriate for your Injury or Sickness. This Physician’s care requirement will be waived when we receive written proof, satisfactory to us, that further care would be of no benefit to you.

If you are a physician or dentist and have limited your Regular Occupation to the performance of the Substantial And Material Duties of a single specialty recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or American Osteopathic Association Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists (AOABOS) or American Dental Association (ADA), then that specialty will be deemed your Regular Occupation.

Who Offers Disability Insurance
for Physicians?

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States AvailableAK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KT, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
About

Ameritas Life is as reputable as any name in the insurance industry. However, it's actually a newcomer to the disability insurance space in comparison to its competitors. DInamic Foundation is its best disability insurance product for doctors. Policies are underwritten and issued by Union Central Life, its wholly-owned subsidiary.

Ameritas features a true own-occupation definition of disability. This provision benefits you if an accident or illness prevents you from practicing your specialty.

DInamic Foundation requires you to choose between non-cancelable coverage and guaranteed renewal. The maximum benefit period available is to age 70. Ameritas offers basic and enhanced residual disability riders. It also offers two different COLA riders.

Pros

  • True own-occupation provision.
  • Lowest premium amount.
  • Two COLA rider and residual disability options.
  • Various add-ons such a good health benefit, presumptive total disability benefit, COBRA premium benefit, partial disability benefit, and non-disabling injury benefit.

Cons

  • Slower customer service.
  • Lowest maximum policy benefit: $20,000 per month.
  • Must choose between non-cancelable coverage and guaranteed renewal.
  • For certain occupation classes, the own-occupation provision is only available for five years.

Read our full review of Ameritas's disability insurance policy.

States AvailableAK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KT, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
About

As one of the largest, most trusted mutual insurance companies in America, Guardian Life is the Cadillac of its industry. Its disability insurance product, ProVider Choice, is a great fit for doctors. Policies are underwritten and issued by Berkshire Life, a wholly-owned stock subsidiary.

According to Guardian, total disability occurs when injury or illness prevents you from performing your occupation. For doctors, more than half of your income must come from hands-on patient care or surgical procedures to qualify.

Guardian’s true own-occupation definition of disability guarantees full benefits. It still applies if you’re able to maintain gainful employment in another occupation. In fact, you may be able to benefit if you can still practice your specialty with major limitations.

Coverage is non-cancelable and guaranteed renewable to age 70. You may elect 10-year, five-year and two-year benefit periods. Guardian offers 30-day, 60-day, 90-day, 180-day, 360-day and 720-day elimination periods.

Unlike other providers, Guardian features three cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) rider options. As for residual disability, Guardian offers both basic and enhanced partial riders.

Pros

  • True own-occupation provision.
  • Highest COMDEX score: 99.
  • Highest maximum policy benefit: $20,000 per month.
  • Simplified underwriting for up to $7,500.
  • Various options for benefit and elimination periods.
  • Various options for COLA and residual disability riders.
  • Various add-ons such as an automatic benefit enhancement, benefit purchase option, catastrophic disability rider, hospice care benefit, serious illness supplemental benefit and student loan protection.

Cons

  • Highest premium amount.
  • No presumptive total disability benefit.

Read our full review on Guardian's disability insurance policy.

States AvailableAK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KT, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
About

MassMutual has been a mainstay in the insurance game since 1851. MassMutual offers two disability insurance products, Radius and Radius Choice. Both feature provisions and add-ons that allow you to customize your coverage to meet specific needs. MassMutual helps you protect your income and retirement without relinquishing payment control.

MassMutual features a true own-occupation definition of disability. However, the provision is not part of your base policy. You must purchase it as an additional rider. With this provision in place, ‘total disability’ occurs when you cannot perform the main duties of your occupation. This requires you to be under a physician's care.

Both Radius and Radius Choice are non-cancelable and guaranteed renewable to age 65. Radius is conditionally renewable for life, while Radius Choice is only until age 74. Both policies have benefit periods available to ages 65 and 67, as well as two years, five years and 10 years. Radius Choice also offers a maximum benefit period to age 70. Both policies offer elimination periods of 60 days, 90 days, 180 days, one year and two years.

MassMutual offers one cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) rider. After your first year of disability, your monthly benefit increases by a set percentage each year. MassMutual offers one option with basic criteria that increases your chance of qualifying.

Pros

  • True own-occupation provision.
  • Various add-ons such as an automatic benefit enhancement, catastrophic disability rider, future increase option, presumptive total disability benefit and student loan protection.

Cons

  • Own-occupation provision sold separately.
  • Only one COLA rider and residual disability rider option.
  • No benefit purchase option, hospice care benefit or serious illness supplemental benefit.

Read our full review on MassMutual's disability insurance policy.

States AvailableAK, AL, AR, AZ, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KT, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NE, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, WA, WI, WV, WY
About

Ohio National’s disability insurance product is relatively new to the market. Still, it's among the best money can buy. ContinuON Income Solutions II allows you to customize your coverage without losing control of premium expenses.

Ohio National offers its true own-occupation provision as a rider. Regardless of occupation class, it does not come with your base policy. With Ohio National, total disability occurs when you're unable to perform the material and substantial duties of your specialty. To qualify, you must be under the care of a physician.

ContinuON Income Solutions II is guaranteed renewable on an annual basis. Coverage is non-cancelable as long as you consistently pay on time. Benefits periods include age 65, 67 and 70. Two-year, five-year and 10-year benefit periods are also available. Ohio National offers 60-day, 90-day, 180-day and one-year elimination periods.

Ohio National offers both a 3% and a 6% COLA rider. Policyholders may elect the basic or enhanced residual disability rider.

Pros

  • True own-occupation provision.
  • Excellent customer service.
  • Various add-ons such as a hospice benefit, survivor benefit and recurrent disability benefit.

Cons

  • Lowest physical and labs limit means simplified underwriting is only allowed for up to $3,000 per month.

Read our full review on Ohio National's disability insurance policy.

States AvailableAK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KT, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
About

Principal Life is among the most competitive providers in the disability insurance market. HH750 is an excellent option for doctors seeking a top-shelf disability insurance product. It features a wide variety of options that afford you maximum flexibility.

Principal offers both a true own-occupation and a modified own-occupation provision. A true own-occupation provision is the best bet for highly-skilled individuals like doctors. You benefit if you become unable to perform the material and substantial duties of your specialty. It still applies if you can maintain gainful employment in a different occupation.

Modified own-occupation is a watered-down version of the former. Frankly, it's only feasible if you’re cost is a concern. The definition of disability is the same, but you will not benefit if you can fulfill another occupation. Either way, both provisions are available as part of your base policy. You do not have to purchase an additional rider.

HH750 is non-cancelable and guaranteed renewable to age 65. Benefit periods are available to ages 65, 67 and 70, and for two years and five years. Principal features 30-day, 60-day, 90-day, 180-day and one year elimination periods.

Principal offers one cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) rider. After selecting a maximum benefit between 3-6%, it increases on a compound basis. Principal also offers one partial residual disability rider.

Pros

  • True and modified own-occupation provisions.
  • Advisor’s Choice Award for advisor support.
  • Available to those who only work 20 hours a week.
  • Simplified underwriting for up to $6,000 per month.
  • Various add-ons such as a benefit update rider, catastrophic disability rider, future benefit increase rider, presumptive total disability benefit, and serious illness benefit.

Cons

  • The modified own-occupation provision can be misleading. It can save you money now, but you will not receive as strong of benefits as true own-occupation.

Read our full review of Principal's disability insurance policy.

States AvailableAK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KT, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
About

The Standard is among the largest, most trusted providers in the disability insurance space. The company has several options, but Platinum Advantage is the most beneficial for doctors. It features built-in provisions and additional riders that maximize income protection.

The Standard's true own-occupation definition of disability is available as an additional rider. With this provision in place, ‘total disability’ occurs when you are unable to perform the substantial and material duties of your specialty. You must also be under the care of a physician to qualify.

Platinum Advantage is guaranteed renewable to age 67. To make your policy non-cancelable, you must purchase an additional rider. Benefit periods are available to ages 65 and 67, as well as two years, five years and 10 years. Elimination periods of 60 days, 90 days, 180 days and one year are available.

The Standard offers one cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) rider. After selecting a maximum benefit between 3-6%, it increases annually on a compound basis according to the Consumer Price Index. The Standard offers a basic residual disability rider.

Pros

  • True own-occupation provision.
  • Wide variety of options and strong coverage guarantee.
  • No-cost riders and benefits, such as the family care benefit.
  • Various add-ons such as an automatic increase benefit rider, benefit increase rider, catastrophic disability rider, family care benefit, premium waiver benefit, presumptive total disability benefit, student loan rider and survivor benefit.

Cons

  • Own-occupation and non-cancelable riders sold separately.
  • Only one COLA rider and residual disability rider option.
  • Lowest COMDEX score: 79.

Read our full review on The Standard's disability insurance policy.

Christopher Murray - Writer

Christopher Murray received a B.A. in English Literature and Gender Studies from Smith College. He now lives in Maine with his husband where he spends his free time watching reruns of The X-Files and dreaming of traveling in a refurbished VW Bus while writing the next Great American Novel. Chris has extensive writing and editing experience across a range of industries, but with a specialty in personal finance and investing.

Disability InsurancePublished January 27, 2022

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