Understanding Residual Disability Benefits: Are They Worth The Cost? Part 3 – Current Monthly Income
In our previous posts, we identified the basic formula disability insurers use to calculate residual (partial) disability benefits and discussed variations in how disability insurers calculate Prior Monthly Income. Now, we will examine the other principal component in calculating a residual disability benefit: Current Monthly Income.
Current Monthly Income is the calculation of how much a doctor is earning now, versus how much he was earning prior to his disability. Although this sounds like a simple concept, calculating Current Monthly Income can be challenging in the healthcare industry. Many physicians and dentists own their own practices or are a partner in a practice group. Their income is not only based on their productivity, but also includes a passive component from the other business activities of the practice. For example, a dentist may employ one or more hygienists or associate dentists who generate additional revenue. When a doctor becomes disabled, the practice revenue may remain relatively constant as associates increase their production to account for the doctor’s reduced schedule.
Some insurers take advantage of this by calculating Current Monthly Income not on the doctor’s production, but rather on the practice’s revenue. This fails to take into account the true financial impact of a disability because, while revenue may remain high, expenses increase as associate doctors and hygienists work more (and earn more) to fill in for the disabled doctor.
Additionally, many doctors pay themselves based on a percentage of their own production, in addition to the income they earn as practice owners. When a doctor becomes partially disabled, his income from working in the practice will drop, even if the practice’s overall profitability does not. Depending on the language in a particular policy, the policy may not take into account the drop in production, and the doctor may not be able to recover the full loss caused by his disability.
Over the last ten years, there has been an increasing movement away from paper records and toward Electronic Medical Records (EMR). This move has been accelerated by the federal government’s mandate that doctors who treat Medicare and Medicaid patients must have adopted and implemented EMR systems as of January 1, 2014.
There are many benefits to using EMR. They can facilitate patient care between referring doctors, improve data tracking over time, increase efficiency and reduce errors. However, EMR systems have drawbacks when they are used for purposes never intended, such as to document a disability claim.
Many EMR systems allow the doctor to input his findings for every major system in the human body, such as the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, neurological and psychiatric systems. However, if the doctor does not put in something regarding one of the symptoms, the default setting on the EMR will report the system as being “within normal limits” or that the patient has “no complaints.” The concern with this from a disability perspective occurs when a patient sees his doctor for a condition unrelated to his disability.
For example, a patient with a history of degenerative disc disease could visit his doctor for an unrelated infection or illness. Since the doctor is conducting only a limited examination for purposes of treating the presenting illness, he may not input any information related to the patient’s disabling condition. The EMR will then generate an inaccurate record stating that the patient’s musculoskeletal system and neurological system are within normal limits.
Disability insurance carriers can then use these default settings to their own advantage to raise questions about the severity of the claimed disability, justify an independent medical examination or functional capacity evaluation, or support a claim termination. For patients who are receiving disability benefits, it is therefore important to know what their medical records look like and to effectively communicate with their physicians to ensure that their conditions and symptoms are accurately recorded on each visit.