When disability insurance companies build and price policies, they do so largely on the amount of risk involved.

One of the major determining factors of the risk involved with providing long term disability coverage is the occupation of the insured. To determine the pricing and benefits of policies, insurance companies group jobs into specific occupational classes based on risk.

These occupational classes take into account the hazards of the job and the difficulty in returning to work following a disability. Another factor is the claim experience associated with certain professions.

Insurance companies generally classify occupations on a scale of 1 to 5 or 6. Many use the letter M to designate medical professionals. Typically, the higher the numerical value of the classification, the lower the rate available will be from the insurance company (and perceived risk).

Medical specialties are not all classified the same. In general, general practitioners, internists and family practice physicians are in a higher class and will therefore pay lower premiums than surgeons, emergency room physicians and other procedurally oriented doctors.

As your career progresses, it is wise to assess your occupation class to see if you can qualify for better rates.

Keep in mind the following about occupational risk classes when shopping for and comparing physician disability insurance.

Insurance companies vary greatly in how they classify medical specialties.

For example, one company may classify oncologists in their 4M class, while a competing company may designate them as a 5M. In some cases, the discrepancy between insurers for certain specialties may vary by two class numbers.
Therefore, when shopping for disability insurance, you should give special consideration to a company’s policy which placed you in a higher classification than other companies.

Disability insurance companies change occupational classifications from time to time.

Insurers may at times adjust occupational risk classes based on data that shows more or less risk in certain specialities, or the desire to boost sales among certain prospective customers. For example, an insurance company may inform its contracted agents that a certain group of specialists have been moved from a 4M risk class to a 5M class. Companies sometimes offer temporary discounts to certain classes as well.

See also, the Ultimate Guide to Disability Insurance.

The occupational class of your medical specialty will determine five key aspects of your disability policy:

  1. How much you will pay in premium.
    The area most impacted by your occupational class is the amount you will pay for coverage. Typically, the higher the numerical value of your class, the lower the premium you will pay.
  2. How much in monthly benefits you can receive.
    Insurers will cap the monthly benefit they will pay in the event of disability based on your occupational class.
  3. The maximum benefit you can receive.
    In some cases, your occupational class can determine whether you can receive payments to age 65 or if you’ll be limited to a pre-established period of time.
  4. Whether you can obtain own-occupation coverage.
    An own-occupation provision on a disability insurance policy means it will pay benefits if an injury prevents you from working in your medical specialty, even if you’re well enough to earn income doing other types of work. This provision helps define what constitutes a disability and whether you will collect benefits. For some companies and policies, your occupation class will determine if your base policy will carry an own-occupation definition. Otherwise, the policy may have an any-occupation definition, which means it will only pay benefits if you are unable to work in any capacity.
  5. The amount of coverage for mental/nervous disabilities.
    Occupation class can directly affect the extent of coverage you get with regard to mental/nervous coverage. For example, certain occupational classes may limit this coverage to two years.

Disability Insurance Occupational Classes by Medical Specialty

To make it easy to see which medical specialties are viewed more favorably by each insurance company, we’ve provided a list of current occupation classes for the 6 major disability insurance companies for physicians and dentists.

Specialty Standard Guardian Ohio National Ameritas MassMutual Principal
Allergy/Immunology 4P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Anesthesiology 3P 3M 3M 4M 3P 3A-M
Anesthesiology: Pain Management 3P 3M 3M 4M 3P 3A-M
Anesthesiology: Pediatric 3P 3M 3M 4M 3P 3A-M
Cardiology: Electrophysiology 4P 4M 4M 5M 5P 4A-M
Cardiology: Invasive 4S 4M 4M 5M 3P 4A-M
Cardiology: Invasive-Interventional 4P 4M 4M 5M 3P 4A-M
Cardiology: Noninvasive 4P 4M 6M 5M 5P 4A-M
Critical Care: Intensivist 3P 3M 3M 6M 4P 5A-M
Dentist: General 3D 3D 3M 4M 3P 3A-M
Dermatology 4P 4M 6M 6M 5P 4A-M
Dermatology: Dermatopathology 4P 4M 6M 6M 5P 4A-M
Dermatology: Mohs Surgery 4P 4M 5M 6M 4P 4A-M
Emergency Medicine 3P 3M 3M 4M 3P 3A-M
Endocrinology/Metabolism 5P 5M 5M 6M 5P 5A-M
Family Medicine (with OB) 5P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Family Medicine (without OB) 5P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Family Medicine: Ambulatory Only (No Inpatient Work) 5P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Family Medicine: Sports Medicine 5P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Gastroenterology 4P 5M 5M 6M 5P 5A-M
Gastroenterology: Hepatology 4P 5M 5M 6M 5P 5A-M
Geriatrics 5P 5M 5M 6M 5P 5A-M
Hematology/Oncology 5P 5M 5M 6M 5P 5A-M
Hematology/Oncology: Oncology (Only) 5P 5M 5M 6M 5P 5A-M
Hospice/Palliative Care (Family Medicine) 5P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Hospitalist: Family Medicine 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Hospitalist: Internal Medicine 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Hospitalist: IM-Pediatric 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Hospitalist: OB/GYN 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Hospitalist: Pediatric 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Infectious Disease 5P 4M 6M 6M 4P 5A-M
Internal Medicine: General 5P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Internal Medicine: Ambulatory Only (No Inpatient Work) 5P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Internal Medicine: Pediatric 5P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Nephrology 4S 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Neurology 4P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Nurse Practitioner 4P 3M 4M 5M 3A 4A-M
Obstetrics/Gynecology: General 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
OB/GYN: Gynecology (Only) 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
OB/GYN: Gynecological Oncology 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
OB/GYN: Maternal & Fetal Med 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
OB/GYN: Reproductive Endocrinology 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
OB/GYN: Urogynecology 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
Occupational Medicine 4P 3M 3M 3M 4P 2A-M
Optometrist 5A 6M 6M 6A 5P 5A-M
Ophthalmology 4S 4M 5M 6M 3P 4A-M
Ophthalmology: Corneal & Ref Surgery 4S 4M 5M 6M 3P 4A-M
Ophthalmology: Pediatric 4S 4M 5M 6M 3P 4A-M
Ophthalmology: Retina 4S 4M 5M 6M 3P 4A-M
Orthopedic (Nonsurgical) 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 5A-M
Orthopedic Surgery: General 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
Orthopedic Surgery: Foot & Ankle 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
Orthopedic Surgery: Hand 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
Orthopedic Surgery: Hip & Joint 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
Orthopedic Surgery: Pediatric 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
Orthopedic Surgery: Spine 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
Orthopedic Surgery: Trauma 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
Orthopedic Surgery: Sports Medicine 3P 3M 4M 5M 3P 3A-M
Otorhinolaryngology 4S 3M 4M 5M 4P 4A-M
Otorhinolaryngology: Pediatric 4S 3M 4M 5M 4P 4A-M
Pain Management: Nonanesthesia 3P 3M 3M 5M 3P 3A-M
Pathology: Anatomic & Clinical 4P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pathology: Anatomic 4P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pathology: Clinical 4P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: General 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Adolescent Medicine 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Allergy/Immunology 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Cardiology 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Child Development 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Critical Care/Intensivist 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Emergency Medicine 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Endocrinology 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Gastroenterology 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Genetics 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Hematology/Oncology 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Infectious Disease 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Neonatal Medicine 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Nephrology 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Neurology 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Pulmonology 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Radiology 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pediatrics: Urgent Care 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pharmacist 5P 5M 5A 6A 4A 5A-M
Physiatry (Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation) 3P 4M 5M 5M 4P 5A-M
Podiatry: General 2P 3M 3M 2M 3P 3A-M
Podiatry: Surgery-Foot & Ankle 2P 3M 3M 2M 3P 3A-M
Psychiatry: General 4P 4M 5M 5M 5P 4A-M
Psychiatry: Child & Adolescent 4P 4M 5M 5M 5P 4A-M
Psychiatry: Geriatric 4P 4M 5M 5M 5P 4A-M
Pulmonary Medicine: General 4P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pulmonary Medicine: Critical Care 4P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Pulmonary Medicine: General & Critical Care 4P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Radiation Oncology 5P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Radiology: Interventional 4S 4M 6M 6M 4P 4A-M
Radiology: Diagnostic 4P 4M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Radiology: Neurological 4P 4M 6M 6M 5P 4A-M
Radiology: Nuclear Medicine 4P 4M 5M 6M 5P 4A-M
Rheumatology 5P 5M 6M 6M 5P 5A-M
Sleep Medicine 2P 3M 3M 4M 2P 4A-M
Surgery: General 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 3A-M
Surgery: Bariatric 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 3A-M
Surgery: Breast 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 3A-M
Surgery: Cardiovascular 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 4A-M
Surgery: Cardiovascular-Pediatric 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 4A-M
Surgery: Colon & Rectal 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 3A-M
Surgery: Neurological 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 3A-M
Surgery: Neurological-Pediatric 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 3A-M
Surgery: Oncology 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 3A-M
Surgery: Oral 4S 3M 4M 4M 4P 3A-M
Surgery: Pediatric 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 3A-M
Surgery: Plastic & Reconstruction 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 3A-M
Surgery: Thoracic (Primary) 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 3A-M
Surgery: Transplant 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 3A-M
Surgery: Trauma 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 3A-M
Surgery: Vascular (Primary) 4S 3M 4M 4M 3P 3A-M
Urgent Care 3P 3M 3M 6M 4P 3A-M
Urology 4S 4M 4M 5M 4P 4A-M
Urology: Pediatric 4S 4M 4M 5M 4P 4A-M
Dentist: Endodontist 3D 4D 4M 5M 4P 3A-M
Dentist: Pediatric 3D 4D 4M 5M 4P 3A-M
Dentist: Periodontist 3D 4D 4M 5M 4P 3A-M
Dentist: Orthodontist 3D 4D 4M 5M 4P 3A-M
Dentist: Prosthodontist 3D 4D 4M 5M 4P 3A-M
Veterinarian: Large Animals 3P 3M 3A 4A 3A 3A-M
Veterinarian: Small Animals 5P 5M 5A 6A 4A 5A-M

Shopping for disability insurance is not easy, and occupational classes are just one risk factor insurance companies use to assess the risk of insureds. Your age, health and in some cases, gender, will also determine how much you pay and what benefits you can qualify for. It’s possible that your health condition may underwrite more favorably with one company, even though your medical specialty is in a lower risk class.

Because of the complexity and the varying degree of features and benefits available, it’s best to work with an independent agent who can provide quotes on several different disability insurance policies instead of a captive agent who may only offer you one choice.