Category Archives: Disability Insurance Attorney

Do I Have to Keep Paying Premiums Even Though I’m Disabled?

If you are thinking about filing a disability claim, you are likely wondering whether you will be able to meet your monthly expenses if you’re no longer able to work.  You may have made a list of your necessary expenses, and likely included your disability insurance premium payments on that list, as your agent likely told you that your policy would lapse and you would lose your coverage if you missed a premium payment.  At this point, you probably started to wonder whether you still have to keep paying the premium after you file the claim, and if so, for how long?

The answer depends on the specific terms of your policy.  The paragraph that you’ll want to look for when you’re reviewing your policy is typically titled “waiver of premium,” but some policies address waiver of premiums as part of a larger section of the policy that discusses premiums more generally.

How Do Waiver of Premium Provisions Work?

Generally speaking, waiver of premium provisions state that your insurance company cannot charge premiums during periods of time when you are disabled.  A waiver of premium provision typically will also require your insurance company to reimburse you for premiums you have previously paid during your period of disability (i.e. the premiums that you paid while the insurance company was investigating your claim).

Waiver of premium provisions are included in most disability insurance policies.  If you are considering purchasing a policy that does not include a waiver of premium provision, you may have the option to purchase a waiver of premium rider.

Here is an example of a waiver of premium provision from an actual disability insurance policy.

Under this policy, the waiver of premium provision requires you to pay premiums either for 90 consecutive days after you become disabled, or until the end of the elimination period (the elimination period is the number of days you must be disabled before you are entitled to benefits, and is usually noted on the first few pages of a policy).

So, for example, under this policy, once you have been disabled for 90 consecutive days, you no longer would have to pay premiums (at least until you recover from your disability, or your insurer terminates your benefits).  You also would receive a refund of any premiums that you paid for any period prior to your date of disability.

Notably, the waiver of premium provision above also requires you to be receiving benefits for the waiver to apply.  This is significant because, depending on the terms of your policy, in some cases you could be disabled but not receiving benefits.  For instance, your policy might have a foreign residency limitation that prevents you from receiving benefits if you are living in another country, even if you remain disabled. In such a case, you might have to resume paying premiums until you returned to the United States in order to keep your coverage in force.

The Takeaway

Timely and proper payment of premiums is critical, as a failure to pay premiums can result in you losing your disability coverage completely.  It is important to read your policy carefully so that you have a clear understanding of when you are required to pay premiums, and when you are entitled to a refund of past premiums.

Most insurance companies will provide you with written confirmation that premiums have been waived, and it is best to keep paying your premiums until you receive this written confirmation, even if you think that you no longer have an obligation to pay premiums under the terms of your policy.  If you have questions about whether your insurance company should have waived and/or refunded premiums under the terms of your policy, an experienced disability insurance attorney can review your policy and explain your rights and obligations under your particular policy.

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Disability Insurance: What Residents Need to Know – Part 4

 

Previous posts in this series discussed why residents should secure disability coverage sooner rather than later and examined some important terms and provisions to look for in choosing a policy.  In this final post, we’ll be discussing some provisions that allow you to increase your monthly benefits.

As a medical resident, you likely will not be able to obtain a high amount of disability coverage at first, due to your limited income.  Consequently, it is important to look for a policy that offers a way to increase your benefits in the future, as your earning capacity and expenses increase.  You can also, of course, just purchase an additional disability policy if you want to increase your monthly benefit amount, but there can be certain advantages to building benefit increases into your policy from the start.  For example, if your policy has a future increase option provision, you can typically increase the monthly benefits without undergoing any additional medical underwriting (which could otherwise result in exclusions being added to your policy if you have recently suffered from a new medical condition).

Here are a few of the most common methods of increasing the monthly disability benefit of an existing disability policy:

Automatic Benefit Increase

The automatic benefit increase rider adjusts your monthly benefit on an annual basis to account for anticipated increases in income after you purchase your policy.  The annual increases are typically for a term of five years, after which you will generally be required to provide evidence of your increased income in order to renew the rider.

Future Increase Option Rider

This policy rider guarantees you the right to purchase additional coverage at predetermined dates in the future without going back through the long and tedious process of reapplying for a policy. These riders can be attractive because often no additional medical underwriting is required.  Most insurers will not allow you to purchase this rider after age 45.

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)

A COLA rider automatically increases your benefit amount by a certain percentage every year to account for increased cost-of-living due to inflation.

Assuming that you will not face a short or long-term disability until you are older is not a risk you want to take. An individual disability insurance plan is a key component in making sure you are financially stable in the event you are no longer able to practice medicine in your chosen field.  However, not all plans are created equal.   Take the time to evaluate your financial goals and look carefully at the benefits provided by the basic terms, provisions, and riders of the policy you are considering.

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Disability Insurance: What Residents Need to Know – Part 3

In our previous posts in this series, we examined why residents should not wait to acquire disability coverage and discussed some key provisions to look for when selecting an individual disability policy.  In this post, we’ll be taking a look at a few more provisions you may want to look for when selecting a policy.  More specifically, we are going to look at some policy provisions that can help you meet your monthly expenses in the event of disability, along with some policy provisions that can help you plan for your retirement.

Student Loan Coverage Rider

If you are like most residents, you have accrued a significant amount of student loan debt.  The time it takes to pay off student loan debt varies widely based on income and other expenses.  Many doctors must practice for several years before they are able to pay off all of their student loans, and student loan obligations can be a significant monthly expense to meet if you are disabled and no longer able to practice.  Although not as common as other riders, a student loan coverage rider allows policy holders to insure their student loan for an additional amount each month, on top of their benefits.

Waiver of Premium

This provision allows you to forego paying your policy premiums while you are receiving disability benefits, freeing up a substantial portion of the monthly income you would otherwise be paying back to the insurance company.

Return of Premium

This provision, while not as common, entitles the policy holder to receive a refund of all premiums if he or she does not become disabled before the expiration of the policy term.  This can be appealing to residents, whose plans will be in effect for a long time.

Maximum Benefits

This important provision in a policy controls the period of time the insured is eligible to receive benefits.  Most plans pay benefits until age 65 or 67, some pay lifetime benefits, and others pay for only a limited amount of time, even if a claim is filed decades before the policy terminates.

Retirement Income

The majority of doctors under 40 list preparing for retirement as their top financial goal.[1]  There are several different disability policy riders directed towards this goal, including the following.

Graded Lifetime Benefit Rider:  This provision, based on its terms, extends some or all of your disability benefits past the normal end date of age 65 or 67.

Lump Sum Rider:  This rider provides for a one-time payment once the policy expiration age is reached.  Typically, policy holders must have received benefits for at least one year and the lump sum payment is typically a percentage of the aggregate sum of benefits received during the policy term.

Retirement Protection Insurance Depending on the insurer, this may be offered as a rider or a stand-alone policy.  If you become disabled and your claim is approved, your insurer will establish a trust for your benefit, where benefits are deposited and invested (similar to an employer-sponsored 401(k)), with funds likely becoming accessible after the age of 65.

Our next post in this series will discuss the importance of choosing a plan where benefits increase over time.

[1] 2015 Report on U.S. Physicians’ Financial Preparedness, Young Physicians Segment, American Medical Association Insurance, https://www.amainsure.com/reports/2015-young-physician-report/index.html?page=5.

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Disability Insurance: What Residents Need to Know – Part 2

In our previous post, we looked at how important it is for residents to have a plan to protect themselves financially in the unfortunate event they become disabled.  In this post we will address some critical terms to look for when comparing potential policies.

Perhaps the most important provision in your policy is the definition of “Total Disability.”  For physicians, dentists, and other highly specialized professionals who have invested both years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in their careers, a policy that defines “Total Disability” in terms of your inability to perform the specific duties of your “own occupation” (as opposed to “any occupation”) is critical.  If your policy defines “Total Disability” as being unable to work in “any occupation,” it will be much more difficult to establish that you are entitled to benefits, in the event you suffer from a disabling condition.

In addition to knowing and understanding your policy’s definition of “total disability,” it is also crucial to know how working in another profession is treated by your policy.   For instance, if you happened to be an oral surgeon with an essential tremor, you may no longer be able to operate safely on patients, but you may still be able (and want) to teach. Alternatively, if you happened to be a physician who did not take steps to increase your disability coverage to match your increases in earnings, working in another capacity may be the only way to maintain your lifestyle in the event of disability.  Consequently, it is also important to know if your policy will allow you to work in another capacity and still collect benefits.  Along those lines, here are a few other provisions you will want to watch out for.

No Work Provisions

These provisions mandate that you cannot work in another field and still receive benefits.  This can be problematic if you do not have sufficient disability coverage to meet all of your financial needs.

Work Provisions

These types of provisions require you to work in another occupation.  This, of course, can make it impossible to collect on your benefits if your disability prevents you from working.

In our next post we will look at how you can select a plan that grows with you over time, as both your financial obligations and income change.

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Disability Insurance: What Residents Need to Know – Part 1

 

As a medical resident who is just starting out, you have likely heard about disability insurance, but you may not know a lot about what it is, and why it is important.  In this series of posts, we will be discussing a few things that every medical resident should know about disability insurance.

In this post we will look at the likelihood of disability, and discuss how you can begin to protect yourself now and in the future.  In subsequent posts we’ll address some of the key provisions to look for in a disability insurance policy, ways to make sure your policy meets current and future expenses, and ways to increase your disability benefits over time, as both your earning potential and financial obligations expand.

Likelihood of Disability

As a resident, you are beginning what will hopefully be a long and successful career as a physician.  The possibility of suffering either a short or long-term disability is probably the last thing on your mind, especially if you are still young and healthy.  However, the American Medical Association (AMA) reports that 60% of surveyed physicians have a colleague who has sustained a disability accident or injury.[1]  A Social Security Administration report shows that it is significantly more likely that a worker born in 1996 will become disabled during his or her career than die,[2]  and just over 1 in 4 of today’s twenty-year-olds will become disabled before they retire.[3]

Protection Against Disability

The majority of young doctors under 40 are married, have children, are homeowners, and 75% report that they are their family’s primary breadwinner.[4]  Young doctors also face substantial student loan debt, totaling around $166,750, on average.  With a resident’s salary averaging just $50,000 a year,[5] it can be tempting to put off adding the additional expense of an insurance premium.  However, with most young doctors having less than $50,000 in an emergency fund [6], it’s never too early to start planning to protect your family and provide for care in the unfortunate event you can no longer practice.

While many residents and doctors choose to take part in disability plans offered by their employers, these plans will often not provide adequate coverage, and any benefits you do receive will likely be taxable. In contrast, an individual plan provides coverage that is yours as you move from your residency and through (potentially) many different employers. Individual plans also typically allow you to adjust your coverage as your income potential grows.[7]  However, not all individual policies are created equal and it is important to carefully choose a policy.

In our next post, we’ll examine some key provisions to be aware of when shopping for an individual disability insurance policy.

 

 

 

 

[1] Robert Nagler Miller, Residents: Your disability insurance coverage may fall short, AMA Wire, April 4, 2017, https://wire.ama-assn.org/life-career/residents-your-disability-insurance-coverage-may-fall-short

[2] Johanna Maleh and Tiffany Bosley, Disability and Death Probability Tables for Insured Workers Born in 1996, Social Security Administration, Office of the Chief Actuary, Actuarial Note, No. 2016.6, October 2016.

[3] You, disabled?  What are your chances?, The Council for Disability Awareness, 2015, http://www.disabilitycanhappen.org/chances_disability/

[4] 2015 Report on U.S. Physicians’ Financial Preparedness, Young Physicians Segment, American Medical Association Insurance, https://www.amainsure.com/reports/2015-young-physician-report/index.html?page=5

[5] Kathy Kristof, $1 million mistake: Becoming a doctor, CBS Money Watch, Sept. 10, 2013, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/1-million-mistake-becoming-a-doctor/

[6] 2015 Report, Supra.

[7] Miller, Supra.

[8] 2015 Report, Supra

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Edward O. Comitz and Michael F. Beethe Named Southwest Super Lawyers for 2017

Ed Comitz and Mike Beethe, the founding members of the firm, were both recently named Southwest Super Lawyers for 2017.  This is the sixth consecutive year that Mr. Comitz and Mr. Beethe have been recognized by Super Lawyers for excellence in their field.

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.

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Case Study: Factual Disability v. Legal Disability – Part 3

In the last post, we discussed the facts of the court case Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company v. Jefferson[1].  In that case, the court was asked to determine whether a clinical psychologist whose license had been suspended was entitled to disability benefits.  In this post, we will discuss how the court ultimately ruled, and go over some takeaways from this case.

The Court’s Ruling

As explained in the last post, the key question was whether Dr. Jefferson’s legal disability (i.e. the suspension of his license to practice psychology) happened before the onset of Dr. Jefferson’s factual disability (i.e. his depression).  In the end, the court determined that Dr. Jefferson was not entitled to disability benefits for the following reasons:

  • Dr. Jefferson’s claim form stated that he was not disabled until April 29, 1990, which was two days after the licensing board revoked his license.
  • Although Dr. Jefferson later claimed that his depression went as far back as May 1989, the court determined that such claims were inconsistent with:
    • Jefferson’s representations to the licensing board that he was a “highly qualified and competent psychologist”;
    • The fact that Dr. Jefferson had been consistently seeing patients up until the day his license was revoked; and
    • The fact that Dr. Jefferson had scheduled patients during the month following the licensing board’s hearing.

Thus, under the circumstances, the evidence showed that Dr. Jefferson’s was not entitled to benefits because his legal disability preceded his factual disability.

Takeaways

Dr. Jefferson’s case provides a good example of the challenges that can arise in a disability claim if the claimant has lost his or her license.  Here are some of the major takeaways from this case:

  1. Be Precise When Filling Out Claim Forms. The date you list as the starting date of your disability can be very significant.  Take your time when filling out claim forms, and make sure that the date you provide is accurate and consistent with the other information you are submitting with your claim forms.  It is always a good idea to double check everything on the form at least once after you have completed it, to make sure that you did not make a mistake.
  1. Recognize that Your Claim Will Not Be Evaluated in a Vacuum. Other proceedings—such as board hearings—can directly impact your claim.  You should always assume that anything you say in such a proceeding will at some point end up in front of the insurance company.  This is particularly problematic when, as in Dr. Jefferson’s case, the goals of the other proceeding are inconstant with the goals of the disability claim.  In such a situation, you may have to decide which goal is more important to you.  An experienced attorney can help you assess the strengths and weaknesses of each available option so that you can make an informed decision.
  1. Do NOT Engage in Activities that Place Your License in Jeopardy. Losing a license that you worked hard for several years to obtain is not only emotionally devastating, it can severely limit your options going forward.  Even if you have a disability policy, it is very difficult to successfully collect on a disability claim if your license has been revoked or suspended.  Once again, if you find yourself in Dr. Jefferson’s position, you should talk with an experienced attorney who can help you determine what your available options are, if any.

[1] 104 S.W.3d 13, 18 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002).

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Case Study: Factual Disability v. Legal Disability – Part 2

In the last post, we discussed the distinction between “factual” and “legal” disability and why that distinction matters.  In this post, we will begin looking at a court case involving “factual” and “legal” disability.  Specifically, in this post we will begin looking at the facts of the case and the test that the court applied.  In Part 3, we will see how the court ultimately ruled.

The Facts

In the case of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company v. Jefferson[1], the court assessed whether Dr. Jefferson—a clinical psychologist—was entitled to disability benefits.  Here are the key facts of the case:

  • From October 1987 to February 1989, Dr. Jefferson had an affair with a former patient.
  • When Dr. Jefferson’s wife found out about the affair, she filed a complaint with Dr. Jefferson’s licensing board.
  • During the hearings in front of the licensing board, Dr. Jefferson argued that he was a competent psychologist, and that he should be permitted to continue to see patients.
  • On April 27, 1990, the licensing board permanently revoked Dr. Jefferson’s license to practice psychology, effective as of May 15, 1990. On appeal, a chancery court reduced the permanent revocation to an eight year suspension ending on May 15, 1998.
  • Up until the day his license was revoked, Dr. Jefferson continued to see patients and schedule future patients.
  • On October 1, 1900, Dr. Jefferson filed a claim under his disability policy, claiming that he was disabled due to “major depression.”
  • On his claim form, Dr. Jefferson listed the beginning date of his disability as April 29, 1990. Later on, Dr. Jefferson attempted to submit evidence that he had been depressed as early as May 1989.

The Court’s Test

As a threshold matter, the Court determined that the suspension of Dr. Jefferson’s license was a “legal disability” and assumed for the sake of argument that Dr. Jefferson’s “major depression” was a “factual disability.”  As explained in Part 1 of this post, courts generally hold that disability policies only cover factual disabilities, not legal disabilities.  However, the court’s decision becomes more difficult when a claimant like Dr. Jefferson has both a legal disability and a factual disability.

Although different courts approach this situation in different ways, here is the test that the court came up with in Dr. Jefferson’s case:

  • Step 1: Determine which disability occurred first.
  • Step 2: Apply the following rules:
    • Rule # 1: If the legal disability occurred first, the claimant is not entitled to benefits.
    • Rule # 2: If the factual disability occurred first, the claimant is entitled to benefits, if the claimant can prove the following three things:
      1. The factual disability has medical support.
      2. The onset of the factual disability occurred before the legal disability.
      3. The factual disability actually prevented or hindered the claimant from engaging in his or her profession or occupation.

In the next post, we will discuss how the court decided this case.  In the meantime, now that you have the key facts and the court’s test, see if you can guess how the court ultimately ruled.

[1] 104 S.W.3d 13, 18 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002).

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Case Study: Factual Disability v. Legal Disability – Part 1

In the next few posts we will be looking at the distinction between “factual” and “legal” disability.  In Part 1, we will discuss the difference between a factual and a legal disability, and why that distinction matters.  In Parts 2 and 3, we will look at an actual court case involving “factual” and “legal” disability.

What is “Factual Disability”?

Factual disability refers to incapacity caused by illness or injury that prevents a person from being physically or mentally able to engage in his or her occupation.  This is the type of disability that most people think of in connection with a disability claim.

What is “Legal Disability”?

Legal disability is a broad term used to encompass all circumstances in which the law does not permit a person to engage in his or her profession, even though he or she may be physically and mentally able to do so.  Here are some examples:

  • Incarceration;
  • Revocation or suspension of a professional license;
  • Surrendering a professional license as part of a plea agreement or to avoid disciplinary action; and
  • Practice restrictions imposed by a licensing board.

Why the Distinction Matters

In sum, someone with a “factual disability” is mentally or physically unable to engage in their profession.  In contrast, someone with a “legal disability” is not allowed to engage in their profession.  Courts have repeatedly held that disability insurance policies provide coverage for factual disabilities, but not for legal disabilities.

If a claimant has both a factual and legal disability, things become more complicated.  In the next few posts, we will look at an example of how one court determined whether someone with both a factual and legal disability was entitled to benefits.

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The Four Functions of Insurance

In this post, we are going to discuss the four functions of an insurance company.

Introduction – The Promise

Insurance is not like any other business.  Rather than selling a tangible product that you receive immediately upon paying for it, insurance companies are selling an important promise—a promise of protection, security and peace of mind if something goes wrong.

When you buy a car, you give someone money and you take a car home.  When you buy groceries, you pay money and get your groceries.  Insurance is different.  With insurance, you give them money and trust, and hope and pray that you never have to collect.

The Four Functions of Insurance

The activities of an insurance company can be divided into four major functions:

1.  Actuarial

The actuarial department is concerned with what kind of promise the company is going to sell and how much the promise should cost.  Essentially, the actuaries’ role is to analyze the financial consequences of risk and price the company’s product in a way that will allow the company to make a profit.  For example, an actuary working for a car insurance company might calculate the risk that potential customers will be in a car accident, and then adjust premium amounts to account for that risk so that the insurer can pay accident claims and still make money.

2.  Marketing

The marketing department is concerned with how to get people to buy the promise being sold.  They design ads and employ sales people.  Basically, this department’s goal is to get people interested in buying the promise.

3.  Underwriting

The underwriting department determines who the company should sell the promise to.  Underwriters review applications and assesses whether the company should allow applicants to purchase the promise.  For example, the underwriting department of a life insurance company might review health questionnaires submitted by applicants to assess whether the level of risk is low enough to provide life insurance to the applicant.

4.  Claims

The claims department’s role is to process and pay legitimate claims. While the first three departments are very much concerned about profitability, the claims department is not supposed to consider company profitability when adjusting a claim.  If the actuaries made a mistake and sold a product that is costing the company too much money, the product was not marketed correctly, or if underwriting was too lax, the company is supposed to pay legitimate claims and bear the loss.

Conclusion

As we have discussed in previous posts, an insurance company has a legal obligation to treat its customers fairly and deal with its customers in good faith.  Ideally, the disability insurance claim process should be simple.  You should inform the company that you meet the standards of the contract, provide certification from a doctor of that fact, and collect your benefits.  It is not supposed to be an adversarial process.

Unfortunately, in instances where one or all of the first three departments mess up, some insurance companies improperly shift the burden of making a profit onto the claims department.  This, in turn, transforms the claims process into an adversarial process.

If you have an experienced disability attorney involved from the outset of your disability claim, your attorney can monitor the insurance company to make sure that they are complying with their legal obligations.  If you have already filed a claim, but believe that your insurer is not properly processing your claim, an experienced attorney can review the insurer’s conduct and determine whether the insurer is acting in bad faith.

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