In our last post we discussed how it can be difficult to save for retirement if your only income is your monthly disability benefits. One way to help ensure financial security into retirement age is to purchase a lifetime benefit option with an individual disability insurance policy. While older policies often featured full monthly benefit payments for life, newer policies insert qualifiers that limit whether a claimant will actually receive the full benefit amount for his or her lifetime. Our last post looked at the injury versus sickness limitation. In this post, we will be taking a look at another provision that limits lifetime benefits: the graded benefit rider.
Graded Lifetime Benefit Riders
Under this rider, claimants receive benefits for life, provided they are disabled prior to a specified age and remain continuously totally disabled. However, the amount of the monthly benefit they receive varies based on how old the claimant is at the onset of his or her disability.
For example, a policy may have a benefit period that ends at age 65, with a graded lifetime benefit rider (sometimes called a “lifetime extension for total disability”) that will pay 100% of monthly benefits for life if the policyholder is disabled prior to age 46. However, if the policyholder becomes disabled after age 46, his or her lifetime benefits will only be a certain percentage of the monthly payment.
Below is a provision from an actual policy, illustrating how benefit amounts are calculated under this type of rider:
Using this chart as an example, if your benefit payments are $10,000 per month and you become totally disabled at age 46 (100% under the policy) your insurance company will continue to pay you $10,000/month after you turn 65 for the rest of your life. If you become totally disabled at age 55, the percentage of monthly indemnity payable would drop to 50% and your insurance company would pay you $5,000/month after you turn age 65. If you don’t become totally disabled until age 64, the amount payable would only be 5% of your monthly benefit. In other words, you would have a year or less of monthly payments of $10,000, followed by monthly payments of $500.
While a graded lifetime benefits rider is one way to ensure that you continue to receive disability income after your standard benefit period ends, you must keep in mind that these payments may not provide much income if you become disabled later on in life.
Further, in order to achieve lifetime benefits under this rider, you must remain totally disabled. So, for example, if you return to work, were pushed off claim, or went into residual disability claim status, you lose the lifetime benefits. And even if you are later able to reestablish total disability, the lifetime benefit will be a lower percentage of the monthly benefit, because you will have re-set your total disability date for purposes of calculating your monthly benefit under the rider.
Lifetime benefits offer a way for policyholders to continue to collect at least some income after the benefit period of their policy ends. However, when choosing a policy, physicians and dentists must carefully consider their age at the time of purchase, premium amounts, and the policy language before buying a policy. Knowing how your policy’s lifetime benefits work is an important step in planning for your financial future.
In our next post we will look at another option individuals have to supplement their retirement income: the lump sum benefit rider.
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.
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.
In previous posts, we’ve discussed how insurance companies typically place caps on how much coverage a policyholder can receive. For physicians and dentists, this typically results in monthly disability benefit amounts that are lower (and sometimes much lower) than the monthly income you would bring in if you were still able to practice.
In some cases, policyholders are able to supplement their income by working in another field, but this is only possible if your policy allows you to work in another occupation. Alternatively, your policy could contain a “no work” provision, which would foreclose this as an option. And some newer policies even require you to be working in order to collect benefits, so you don’t have a choice–you must find another job if you want to receive your disability benefits each month.
If you are not able to work in another occupation, due to the nature of your disabling condition and/or the contractual terms of your policy, you may be placed in a position where you must either cut expenses, find another source of income, or both. If you find yourself in this unenviable position, or you are planning ahead and contemplating what you might do in this sort of situation, you will want to keep in mind that some policies–particularly employer-sponsored plans–can contain offset provisions, which allow the insurance company to reduce your monthly benefit if you receive additional income from certain enumerated sources.
What Types of “Other Income” Can Be Offset?
There are many types of income that your insurer might include in an offset provision. Some examples include:
- Social Security benefits;
- Pension plans;
- Sick leave or a salary continuation plan of an employer;
- Income from other disability insurance policies;
- Retirement benefits funded by an employer;
- Workers’ compensation;
- Partnership or shareholder distributions; or
- Amounts paid because of loss of earning capacity through settlement, judgment, or arbitration.
The list above is by no means exhaustive and, again, you should carefully review your policy for its specific list of offsets.
What are Overpayment Provisions?
If your policy contains an offset provision, it will also likely contain an overpayment provision. In most instances, if your policy contains an offset provision, your insurer will be able collect information about your income from other sources prior to issuing the benefit, and calculate the amount due accordingly. However, in some cases this is not possible.
For example, say you applied for Social Security disability benefits. In some cases, it can take several years before a Social Security determination is made. Then, at that point, if your claim was approved, you would receive a lump sum of benefits covering the time period from the date of disability you reported to the date your claim was approved.
This is where the overpayment provision kicks in. If your policy has an overpayment provision, upon learning of the lump sum payment from Social Security, your insurer could potentially require you to pay the entire lump sum of benefits back to your insurance company (depending on the terms of your policy). This is because the lump sum payment represents several monthly payments you would have received over the relevant time frame. If your insurer paid the full monthly disability benefit for those months and your policy has an offset provision, your insurer will likely ask for the Social Security benefits as payment for the amounts that should have been offset each month over that time period.
What Happens if You Cannot Pay Back the Overpayment in a Lump Sum?
If you are not in a position to pay back an overpayment in a lump sum, your insurer will seek to collect the overpayment amount in other ways. One way is reducing and/or withholding future benefits until the full amount of the overpayment has been recouped by the insurer. Your insurer may also work out a payment plan with you, initiate collection efforts against you and/or file suit to recover the overpayment.
Offset and overpayment provisions can be particularly devastating if you are caught unaware and find yourself with considerably less income than expected, or an obligation to repay a large sum to your insurer. When selecting a policy, you should try and avoid these types of provisions if at all possible. If you already have a policy, you should read it carefully, so that you are fully aware of any offsets that could occur and any overpayments that you could potentially be responsible for under the terms of your policy
The answer depends on what your disability policy says. Many people don’t realize that their policy may limit their ability to receive disability benefits if they move out of the country. If you’ve ever wondered why claims forms ask for your updated address, one of the reasons might be that your policy contains a foreign residency limitation, and your disability insurance company is trying to figure out if they can suspend your benefits.
Foreign residency limitations allow disability insurance companies to stop paying benefits under your policy if you move out of the country. These limitations may be especially relevant if you have dual citizenship, you want to visit family living abroad, or you plan to obtain medical care in another country. A foreign residency limitation may also affect you if your policy allows you to work in another occupation and you have a job opportunity in another country that you want to pursue. For instance, if you are a dentist and can receive disability benefits while working in another occupation, your insurance company may suspend your benefits if the opportunity you pursue is in another country.
Foreign residency limitations benefit disability insurance companies in several ways. By requiring you to remain mostly in the country while receiving benefits, these limitations simplify the payment process and reduce the possibility that insurers will need to communicate with doctors in other countries to manage your claim. They also make it easier for insurance companies to schedule field interviews and conduct surveillance of you to find out if you have done something that could be interpreted as inconsistent with your claim.
While these limitations are not included in every disability insurance policy, it is important to check if your policy—or a policy you are considering purchasing—contains a foreign residency limitation, because it could limit your ability to collect benefits later on.
Foreign residency limitations vary by policy. Here is an example of one foreign residency limitation from a Guardian policy:
This limitation highlights several details you should look for if your disability policy contains a foreign residency limitation, including the length of time you can spend in another country before your insurance company will suspend your benefits, whether you can resume receiving benefits if you return to the country, and when you will have to resume paying premiums if your insurance company suspends your benefits. Another important consideration is the effect a foreign residency limitation will have on your policy’s waiver of premium provision. Under the policy above, premiums will continue to be waived for six months after benefits are suspended. However, your policy may have a different requirement regarding payment of premiums, so it’s important to read your policy carefully.
Here is an example of another foreign residency limitation from a different Guardian policy:
This limitation contains much less detail than the first limitation. For instance, it does not clarify how suspension of benefits will affect waiver of premium. If your disability policy contains a foreign residency limitation that does not discuss waiver of premium, you should look to your policy’s waiver of premium provision to find out when premiums will become due after benefits are suspended. The policy above also defines foreign residency differently than the first policy. At first glance, it may seem that you can continue to receive disability benefits any time you leave the country for twelve months or less. What the policy actually says, though, is that the insurance company will only pay benefits for twelve months that you are out of the country at any time you are covered by the policy. So, if you have received benefits for twelve months while living in another country—even if those months were spread out over several years—your insurance company will not pay benefits in the future unless you are in the United States or Canada.
As you can see, foreign residency limitations vary among disability policies. If you are thinking about leaving the country, it is important to read your policy carefully first so that you understand how leaving the country may affect your ability to recover benefits.
Ed Comitz’s Continuing Education course “Disability Insurance Roulette: Why is it So Hard to Collect on My Policy” is now available through Dentaltown. This CE is an electronically delivered, self-instructional program and is designated for 2 hours of CE credit. In this course, Ed discusses why it is so difficult for dentists to collect disability benefits and how to avoid the most common mistakes made by dentists when filing disability claims. Ed also covers the key provisions to look for in disability insurance policies and provides an overview of the disability claims process. Finally, the course discusses how disability insurance claims are investigated and administered, and identifies common strategies used by insurance companies to deny claims.
Information on how to register can be found here.
For more information regarding what to look for in a policy, see this podcast interview where Ed Comitz discusses the importance of disability insurance with Dentaltown’s Howard Farran.
The Answer Is: It Depends
Whether your disability benefit payments are taxable depends on what type of policy or plan you have and how your premiums are paid. This post is not intended as tax advice—we’ve outlined some basic information below only. You should always speak with a tax professional regarding your particular situation.
Individual Policies: These are policies that you purchase yourself. Generally speaking, if you pay the premiums with after-tax dollars, the benefits you receive are tax free. However, if you pay with pre-tax dollars or deduct your premiums as a business expense, then your benefits will likely be subject to federal income taxation.
Group Policies: Group policies are those offered through associations such as the ADA or AMA. These types of policies offer special terms, conditions, and rates to members and function much like individual policies, with similar tax consequences. Generally speaking, if you pay the premiums (with after-tax dollars) then the benefits you receive are tax free.
Employer-Sponsored Policies: These types of policies can be less straightforward when it comes to taxes, as the payment of premiums can be structured several ways. According to the IRS website:
- If your employer pays the premium and does not include the cost of the premiums in your gross income, then benefits you receive will generally be fully taxable.
- If the employer only offers a policy, but you pay the entire premium without taking a tax deduction,
then the benefits you receive will generally be tax-free.
- If both your employer and you pay the premiums then the tax liability will generally be split.
If you are unsure what type of policy or plan you have, and you think your employer might be paying the premiums, you can look at your application (there is typically a portion that states who is responsible for the premiums) or talk to your HR department. For more information, talk to your accountant. You can also go to to the IRS website on disability insurance proceeds to find additional information.
It may be tempting to save money by enrolling only in a plan solely paid for by your employer, paying premiums with pre-tax dollars, or deducting premiums as business expenses. But keep in mind that, if you do become disabled, the amount of your benefits actually available to you will substantially decrease if you are required to pay income tax on them.
Selecting a policy is an important decision, and how benefits will be taxed is a significant factor to consider. With statistics showing that one in four dentists will be disabled long enough to collect benefits at some point in their careers, choosing to save now could hurt you financially down the road.
Disability insurance companies are constantly searching for new ways to expand the power and control they have over their policyholders through the use of restrictive policy provisions. In previous posts we’ve discussed how disability insurers are expanding their control over their policyholders’ medical treatment by implementing more stringent care provisions. However, care provisions are not the only avenue for disability insurers to exert a greater degree of influence in the claims process. Over the years, insurers have also expanded the scope of their authority under examination provisions.
The most basic examination provisions simply notify the policyholder that he or she may be examined by the insurer’s doctor or interviewed by a representative of the insurer, like this policy from Northwestern Mutual:
- Medical Examination. The Company may have the Insured examined by a health care practitioner.
- Personal Interview. The Company may conduct a personal interview of the Insured.
- Financial Examination. The Company may have the financial records of the Insured or the Owner examined.
Taken alone, this does not seem to onerous. However, you need to watch out for additional requirements buried at the end of the provision:
Any examination or interview will be performed:
- At the Company’s expense;
- By a health care practitioner, interviewer or financial examiner of the Company’s choice; and
- As often as is reasonably necessary in connection with a claim.
The final sentence of this provision leaves the open the possibility of multiple interviews throughout the claim, and may be overlooked by a claimant who does not carefully review his or her policy.
Other provisions, like this medical examination provision from a Standard Insurance Company individual disability insurance policy, expressly condition the payment of benefits on your cooperation with the exam:
MEDICAL EXAM – We can have Physicians or vocational specialists examine You, at Our expense, as often as reasonably necessary while You claim to be Disabled. Any such examination will be conducted by one or more Physicians or vocational specialists We choose. We may defer or suspend payment of benefits if you fail to attend an examination or fail to cooperate with the person conducting the examination. Benefits may be resumed, provided that the required examination occurs within a reasonable time and benefits are otherwise payable.
In newer policies the language used by the disability insurance companies has become ever more burdensome. For instance, some modern provisions for examinations and interviews create far more specific duties for the policyholder and condition the payment of benefits on the claimant’s satisfaction of these duties. Take this Guardian policy, for example, which outlines the policyholder’s duties and obligations to comply with examinations and interviews in very specific language:
We have the right to have You examined at Our expense and as often as We may reasonably require to determine Your eligibility for benefits under the Policy as part of Proof of Loss. We reserve the right to select the examiner. The examiner will be a specialist appropriate to the assessment of Your claim.
The examinations may include but are not limited to medical examinations, functional capacity examinations, psychiatric examinations, vocational evaluations, rehabilitation evaluations, and occupational analyses. Such examinations may include any related tests that are reasonably necessary to the performance of the examination. We will pay for the examination. We may deny or suspend benefits under the Policy if You fail to attend an examination or fail to cooperate with the examiner.
You must meet with Our representative for a personal interview or review of records at such time and place, and as frequently as We reasonably require. Upon Our request, You must provide appropriate documentation.
Examination provisions containing language this specific and this restrictive significantly limit your rights. The most significant change in the evolution of the examination provision is the number of obligations upon which your benefits are conditioned. This policy language allows disability insurers to use your benefits as leverage to compel your compliance with medical exams, interviews, and a litany of other examinations.
Review your disability insurance policy, and particularly your examination provisions in the “Claims” section, to determine what your rights, duties, and obligations are under your policy. Unfortunately, if your policy requires to participate in examinations, a refusal will likely lead to a denial of benefits. However, you do not have to attend alone. No matter how restrictive the language in your disability insurance policy, you always have the right to have an attorney present for any examination or interview. If you have any questions about your duties or obligations under your policy, contact an experienced disability insurance attorney.
Your maximum benefit period is one of the most important provisions in your disability insurance policy. Its terms control the period of time during which you are eligible to receive benefits under your policy.
Oftentimes the maximum benefit period is more complicated than you may expect. For instance, most newer disability policies contain a benefit schedule that details the length of your benefit period more precisely, based upon your age at the time the claim is filed. This policy from MetLife contains a maximum benefit period schedule similar to those found in many disability insurance policies:
Table A. Maximum Benefit Period Varies By Age When Disability Begins
Age When Disability Begins Maximum Benefit Period
Before Age 61 To Age 65
At Age 61, before Age 62 48 Months
At Age 62, before Age 63 42 Months
At Age 63, before Age 64 36 Months
At Age 64, before Age 65 30 Months
At Age 65, before Age 75 24 Months
At or after Age 75 12 Months
As you can see, under this sort of provision, the maximum benefit period is reduced based upon how old you are when your disability begins.
It is important be aware that all of the relevant information for determining your maximum benefits period is not always located in the same part of your policy. For example, your policy summary may contain an asterisk and then, in fine print at the bottom of the schedule state something like “*The Maximum Benefit Period may change due to your age at total disability. Please see Policy Schedule II.” Then, if you notice the fine print and turn to Schedule II, you see something similar to the Metlife schedule, above, that limits the benefit period based upon your age at the onset of disability.
Other policies require a bit more calculation. For example, policies like this one from Mutual of Omaha take your Social Security Normal Retirement Age into account:
|Age at Disability||Maximum Benefit Period|
|61 or less||to Age 65 or to Your Social Security Normal Retirement Age, or 3 years and 6 months, whichever is longer|
|62||to Your Social Security Normal Retirement Age or 3 years and 6 months, whichever is longer|
|63||to Your Social Security Normal Retirement Age or 3 years, whichever is longer|
|64||to your Social Security Normal Retirement Age or 2 years and 6 months, whichever is longer|
|66||1 year and 9 months|
|67||1 year and 6 months|
|68||1 year and 3 months|
|69 or older||1 year|
If your policy contains a provision like this, you can use this calculator to determine your Normal Retirement Age, to determine exactly how long you are entitled to benefits.
Finally, it is important to note that many policies have specific, limited benefit periods for certain conditions such as mental illness and substance abuse (and typically restrict coverage for these sorts of conditions to a short time frame—usually 1 or 2 years).
As you can see, the maximum benefit provision can take many different forms in a disability insurance policy. It is critical that you read your policy carefully and have a firm grasp on how your maximum benefit period provision affects your eligibility for benefits. If you have any questions about your policy, contact an experienced disability insurance attorney.
Provisions Appearing As Policy Terms or As Riders (2 of 2)
In this series of posts we are discussing policy riders, the add-ons to your basic disability insurance policy that provide additional terms or benefits in exchange for higher premiums. In part one, we walked through the basics of policy riders and evaluated the commonly-purchased COLA rider. In part two, we analyzed two benefit-based riders that enable you to increase your monthly benefits without the hassle of applying for additional coverage.
In the part three, we looked at a pair of provisions that may appear as policy terms or as riders, depending on the insurer. Some of these provisions can have a significant effect on your rights and benefits in the event of a disability, and identifying where and how they may fit into your policy is critical to ensuring you are fully protected. In this fourth post, we’ll look at two more provisions that sometimes appear as policy terms and sometimes appear as riders, depending on the insurer.
On this blog we have spent a significant amount of time writing the importance of purchasing an individual disability insurance policy to that defines “Total Disability” in terms of your own occupation, rather than any occupation. This is especially true for doctors, dentists, and other highly specialized professionals who have invested years of time and hundreds of thousands of dollars in their careers.
To determine if you have an own occupation policy, look under the “Definitions” section of your policy for the definition of “Total Disability”:
Total Disability or Totally Disabled means that, solely due to Injury or Sickness, You are not able to perform the material and substantial duties of Your Occupation.
Your Occupation means the regular occupation in which are engaged in at the time you become disabled.
This is a typical own occupation definition of Total Disability. If your policy does not define total disability in terms of Your Occupation, Your Regular Occupation, Your Current Occupation, or similar language, it is unlikely that you have an own occupation policy. If that is the case, you may nonetheless be able to purchase an own occupation rider. An own occupation rider will likely come with a significant premium increase, but for most medical professionals the high cost is justified by the additional income security the provision provides.
Most modern-day disability insurance policies pay benefits until the policyholder reaches age 65, though in some unique cases a standard policy may pay lifetime benefits. More often, however, a lifetime benefits provision must be purchased as a policy rider. The provision usually includes language stipulating that the disabling condition must occur before a certain age (typically between 45 and 55) in order for the policyholder to be eligible for lifetime benefits at 100% of their monthly benefit. If the condition occurs after the cutoff age, the policyholder will only be paid a percentage of their monthly benefits for the remainder of their lifetime. For example, the provision may structured as follows:
Lifetime Benefit Percentage is determined based upon the following table:
If Your continuous The Lifetime Benefit
Total Disability started: Percentage is:
Prior to Age 46 100%
At or after Age 50, but before Age 51 75%
At or after Age 55, but before Age 56 50%
At or after Age 60, but before Age 61 25%
At or after Age 64, but before Age 65 5%
At or after Age 65 0%
A lifetime benefit extension rider can be enormously advantageous if you become disabled prior to the cutoff age. However, as you can see from the table, it can also have rapidly diminishing returns if you become disabled later in life, depending on your policy’s terms.
In the last post of this series on disability insurance policy riders, we’ll be taking a look at some of the more recent policy rider products disability insurance companies are offering to the next generation of professionals, such as the student loan rider.
Provisions Appearing As Policy Terms or As Riders (1 of 2)
In this series of posts we are discussing policy riders, the add-ons to your basic disability insurance policy that provide additional terms or benefits in exchange for higher premiums. In part one, we walked through the basics of policy riders and evaluated the commonly-purchased COLA rider. In part two, we analyzed two benefit-based riders that enable you to increase your monthly benefits without the hassle of applying for additional coverage.
All of the provisions we’ve discussed so far are typically purchased as policy riders, and are rarely included in the basic terms of your policy. In the next two posts, however, we will evaluate provisions that may appear as policy terms or as riders, depending on the insurer. Whether an additional provision is included in your policy or must be attached as a rider, additional benefits typically come with a higher premium. Some of these provisions can have a significant effect on your rights and benefits in the event of a disability, and identifying where and how they may fit into your policy is critical to ensuring you are fully protected.
Partial/Residual Disability Benefits
Partial disability benefits, also referred to as residual disability benefits, pay a percentage of the maximum benefit amount in the event that the policyholder’s medical condition prevents him or her from performing some, but not all, of the duties of his or her occupation on a full-time basis. At first, this may appear to be an attractive option for a dentist suffering from a lumbar disc herniation, for example, who wishes to keep working to the degree he is able while receiving a portion of his disability benefits.
The most important benefit of a residual disability claim is that it allows you to preserve your pre-disability occupational definition while collecting a portion of your monthly disability benefits. If you have an own occupation policy, preserving your pre-disability occupational definition is vital to ensuring that any future total disability claim is accepted and fully paid down the road.
However, there are also some drawbacks to partial disability claims. For example, most insurers calculate monthly benefits for a partial disability claim using a formula that takes into account your prior monthly income, your current monthly income, and the maximum benefit amount under your policy. However, calculating these figures can be tricky for doctors and dentists who are often paid a percentage of their production. If your insurer measures your prior and current monthly income based on the overall profit of your clinic, your personal drop in production may not be fully taken into account and your partial disability benefits may end up being significantly less than your actual lost income.
Furthermore, the maximum benefit period for a partial disability claim is typically shorter than a total disability claim. As a result, your insurer has an incentive to continue characterizing your medical condition as a partial disability even if you become totally disabled. In doing so, they may run out the clock paying only a percentage of your benefits for 60 months or until age 65 instead of paying full benefits potentially for life. With these incentives, it is unsurprising that insurers approve relatively few total disability claims that begin as partial disability claims – even if the policyholder stops working completely. For more information on how insurers assess potential disability claims, see this article.
Some insurers include a partial/residual disability provision in the terms of their standard disability insurance policy, while others offer it as a policy rider. To determine if residual disability benefits are part of your standard policy, check the “Definitions” section of your policy to see if “Partial Disability” or “Residual Disability” is a defined term. If it is, check the section of your policy titled “Benefits” or “Monthly Income Benefits” – if this section contains provisions describing the payment of residual disability benefits, they are included in the standard terms of your policy.
If residual or partial disability is not defined in your policy, the provision is only available as a policy rider. If residual disability benefits are not included in the terms of your policy, consider the pros and cons outlined above before purchasing residual coverage as a policy rider. The advantages of residual disability benefits may not justify the additional cost associated with the rider in your particular case.
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 your monthly income you would otherwise be paying back to the insurance company. This provision usually includes a waiting period – typically ninety days – before it kicks in. Once the waiver takes effect, however, it can significantly ease the financial burden created by a disabling condition, saving you hundreds of dollars every month.
A premium waiver is a standard term in most modern-day disability insurance policies. The provision is typically found toward the end of the “Benefits” section of your policy, under the subheading “Waiver of Premium.” If your policy does not include this provision, you may consider purchasing it as a rider.
As you read through your policy, look carefully to determine which of the provisions discussed above appear in your disability insurance policy. Not only will this help you fully understand your rights under your policy, it will help you determine if additional riders are necessary to fully protect your financial security in the event of a disability. In our next post, we will look at two more provisions that may appear either as riders or as policy terms.
An Introduction to Policy Riders
In this series of posts we will evaluate the policy riders offered by most disability insurance companies in addition to their basic terms of their policies. A policy rider is an add-on provision at an additional cost that provides you with additional benefits and/or terms not included in a standard policy. Individual disability insurance policies have very little room for modification or customization outside of choosing your monthly benefit amount. Policy riders allow you to customize certain aspects of your policy based on your individual needs.
Doctors, dentists, and other professionals purchase disability insurance policies to protect their earning potential and the time and money they’ve invested in their careers. The basic provisions of an individual disability insurance policy, however, may not be enough to protect you in the event of a disability. Policy riders may be necessary to ensure that your financial future is secure if you become disabled.
In this first post, we will evaluate a common and widely-available policy rider that can help you protect your benefits from a changing economy: the Cost-of-Living Adjustment rider.
Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Rider
A COLA rider automatically increases your benefit amount by a certain percentage every year to account for increased cost-of-living due to inflation. To determine the annual percentage increase, your insurer will often let you choose between a set percentage and tying it to an establish index such as the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Most insurers will cap the overall increase in benefits – often at one or two times the original benefit amount.
Imagine that you become permanently disabled at age 45 due to severe cervical spinal stenosis. Your individual disability insurance policy pays $20,000.00 per month to age 65. Ten years in, you’re still receiving $20,000.00 per month, but inflation has risen at an average of 1.6% per year according to the CPI. Without a COLA rider, your $20,000.00 has approximately $3,440.00 less buying power than it did ten years ago. With a COLA rider tied to the CPI, your benefit amount will increase along with inflation and at ten years you will receive $23,440.00 per month rather than $20,000.00 per month.
This particular rider is very important for long-term individual disability insurance, and if you are considering purchasing a policy you should strongly consider a COLA rider for the best long-term income protection. It is a fairly expensive increase to your monthly premium, but it will ensure that your buying power and lifestyle are not affected by inflation in the event of a long-term disability.
In our next post, we will discuss the Automatic Benefit Increase rider, the Future Increase Option rider, and how they both allow you to increase your benefits down the road without jumping through the hoops of reapplying for additional coverage.
In this two-part series we are addressing the two most common scenarios in which insurance companies pursue lump sum buyouts. In Part 1, we talked about buyouts for individuals who are totally and permanently disabled and have been on claim for several years. In Part 2, we will address the other scenario in which buyouts occur: after a lawsuit has been filed.
In the context of an individual disability insurance policy, a lawsuit is generally filed in one of two common scenarios: (1) a person on claim with a legitimate disability has their benefits terminated; or, (2) a person with a legitimate disability has their claim denied. A lawsuit is typically considered to be the last line of defense in the claims process. By the time a lawsuit has been filed, the claimant’s attorney has likely exhausted every available means to resolve the claim without legal action. Litigation is costly, time-consuming, and can drag on for years.
If an insurance company offers a lump sum buyout during litigation, it will typically be at one of three stages in the case: (1) after the Complaint and Answer are filed; (2) after all stages of pretrial litigation and discovery are complete; or (3) after the claimant/plaintiff wins at trial.
The first stage of any lawsuit is the filing of the Complaint. This is a document the plaintiff files with the court outlining all of the claims and allegations against the defendant. After receiving a copy of the Complaint, the defendant then has a specified period of time in which to file an Answer responding to the plaintiff’s allegations.
Prior to the filing of a lawsuit, a contested claim has likely been reviewed only by the insurance company’s in-house attorneys. However, once litigation begins, the insurance company will retain a law firm experienced in insurance litigation to handle the case. After the filing of the Complaint, the insurance company’s outside counsel will have the opportunity to evaluate the strength of the case and the claim. Viewing the case through the prism of their experience, the insurer’s litigation team may recommend offering a buyout to avoid the risk, costs, and time associated with the lawsuit.
The second point of a lawsuit at which a buyout may occur is after all stages of pretrial litigation are complete. Once the parties have had the opportunity to conduct discovery and litigate any pretrial motions, they will have a full picture of the case and their prospects at trial. Through discovery both sides will be able to obtain all documents and interview all witnesses the other side intends to use at trial. Through the filing of pretrial motions the parties can attempt to prevent or limit the use of certain evidence or witnesses at trial.
At this juncture, the insurance company may seek to avoid the risks of trial and settle the claim before the first juror is ever impaneled. The insurance company’s incentive to resolve the case at this point – even after both sides have invested substantial resources in the litigation – is the financial exposure and bad publicity it faces with a loss at trial. Additionally, a bad result at trial for the insurance company could create undesirable legal precedent for future cases.
If a jury (or a judge, depending on the case) determines that the insurance company has unlawfully denied or terminated a legitimate disability claim, the insurer will not only be required to pay the benefits the claimant/plaintiff is entitled to, but may also be liable for damages and other costs. The insurer may be required to pay back benefits, plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees and costs, consequential damages, and punitive damages.
In the context of a disability insurance lawsuit, consequential damages come in the form of any financial harm to the claimant/plaintiff resulting from the insurer’s denial or termination of benefits. For example, if the insurer’s termination of benefits led to the claimant/plaintiff losing their house in foreclosure, the insurer could be liable for consequential damages. Punitive damages are designed to deter the insurer from denying legitimate claims in the future, and can be multiplied several times over if the insurer is found to have acted in bad faith. Additionally, some states allow acceleration of benefits – in which the courts can order the insurer to immediately pay future benefits that would owed to the claimant/plaintiff over the full life of the policy.
The final stage at which a lump sum buyout may be offered is after a victory at trial by the claimant/plaintiff. You may be wondering why anybody would entertain a settlement offer right after a being awarded back benefits, damages, and costs at trial – why accept anything less? The answer is simple: appeals. The insurance company can tie up a trial court victory in the court of appeals for years, which they can use as leverage to offer a settlement smaller than the trial award.
Though these three stages of litigation are the most common points at which a buyout may occur, buyouts themselves are uncommon during litigation. Depending on the situation, the specter of a long, drawn out legal battle can either provide the insurance company with the incentive to settle the lawsuit early with a buyout or harden its resolve to fight the claim to the bitter end. You cannot count on simply filing a lawsuit and expecting the insurance company to be eager to settle. Some insurance companies want to settle early and avoid the financial risks and bad publicity of a defeat at trial, while others take a hard line and use their nearly limitless resources to fight a war of attrition. Ultimately, whether or not an insurer offers a lump sum buyout in the midst of litigation depends largely on the individual facts of the case, the risks at trial, and the parties and attorneys involved.
Lump sum buyouts are a frequent source of questions from our clients and potential clients. With that in mind, the next few posts will address different aspects of the buyout process.
Buyouts typically occur in one of two situations: 1) after you’ve been on claim for several years, or 2) after a lawsuit has been filed. This blog post will focus on the first scenario.
Lump sum buyouts that occur outside of litigation normally won’t occur unless and until the insurance company decides that you are totally and permanently disabled under the policy definition. Typically, the insurer won’t consider whether this is the case until you’ve been on claim for at least two years. If the insurer determines that you’re totally and permanently disabled, it will then determine whether it makes sense financially for the company to offer you a percentage of your total future benefits rather than keep paying your monthly benefits for the entire duration of your claim.
To understand how the insurance company calculates whether a buyout is in its financial interest, you should understand how insurance company reserves work. The purpose of reserves is to ensure that the insurance company has the resources to fulfill its obligations to policyholders even if the company has financial difficulties. Thus, disability insurers are required by state regulators to keep a certain amount of money set aside, or “reserved,” to pay future claims. Any money required to be kept in a reserve is money that the insurer can’t spend on other things or pay out in dividends. The amounts required to be kept in the reserve are determined by the state, depending on factors like how much the monthly benefit is and how long the claim is expected to last.
For a disability insurance claim, a graph of the required reserve amount over time looks like a Bell curve: low at the beginning, highest in the middle, and low again towards the end of the benefit period. The ideal time for a settlement, from an insurance company’s perspective, is at or just before the high middle point–typically about five to seven years into the claim, depending on the claimant’s age and the duration of the benefit period. At this point, the company is having to set aside the highest amount of money in the reserve.
If the insurance company can pay you a percentage of your total future benefits, it can not only save money in the long run, but it can release the money in the reserve. The insurer can then use those funds for other purposes, including providing dividends for its investors. In addition, the insurance company will save all of the administrative expenses it was putting towards monitoring your claim.
In the next post, we’ll address how and why buyouts occur after a lawsuit has been filed.
A large part of our practice consists of helping physicians and dentists whose disability insurance claims have been denied or terminated. When our clients come to us, we carefully analyze their medical records, the claim file, and the law to craft a specific strategy for getting the insurer to reverse its adverse determination. Unfortunately, we sometimes find that in between receiving notice that their claim has been denied or terminated and getting in touch with our firm, doctors will inadvertently take actions that prejudice their claims. With that in mind, it’s important to review what to do and what not to do in the first few days after your claim is denied or terminated.
- In all likelihood, you will first find out that your insurer is denying or ending your disability benefits via a telephone call from the claims consultant who analyzed your claim. As we’ve explained before, the consultant will be taking detailed notes about anything you say during that call. Therefore, even if you are justifiably upset or angry, be very mindful of what you say. Anything you tell the consultant will certainly be written down and saved in your file.
- During the call with your consultant, make your own notes. You don’t have to ask a lot of questions at this stage, but you do want to make sure to record whatever information the consultant gives you.
- Following the phone call, you should receive a letter from the insurance company stating that it has denied your claim or discontinued your benefit payments. According to most state and federal law, the letter should have a detailed explanation of the evidence the company reviewed and why the insurer thinks that evidence shows you aren’t entitled to benefits. When you receive the letter, read through it carefully. Make notes on a separate document about any inaccuracies you identify.
- Make sure you keep a copy of the denial or termination letter as well as the envelope it came in. You should also make a note of the date on which you received the letter. The date the letter was actually mailed and received could be important to your legal rights in the future. Then, the best thing to do is to scan the documents electronically or make a photocopy for your file, just in case the original denial letter gets lost or damaged.
- Once you find out that your claim has been denied or terminated, you should contact a disability insurance attorney. Some doctors and dentists attempt to handle an appeal of their claim on their own, but we strongly suggest at least consulting with a law firm. Every insurance company has its own team of highly-trained claims analysts, in-house doctors, and specialized insurance lawyers to help it support the denial of your claim. Having your own counsel can level the playing field by making sure you know your rights under your policy and what leverage the applicable law provides you, and help you avoid the common traps that insurance companies lay for claimants on appeal.
- The lawyer you consult can be in your area, or it can be a firm with a national practice that’s physically located in another state. You may want to review these questions to ask potential attorneys before you decide who you would like to represent you.
- Whatever attorney you choose to contact, make sure you do so as soon as possible. In many circumstances, you will only have a limited amount of time to appeal the insurance company’s decision. Particularly in claims governed by the federal law ERISA, the clock starts ticking as soon as you find out your claim has been denied or terminated.
- It’s usually best to contact an attorney before you respond to the denial letter, to avoid saying anything that could prejudice your appeal. For instance, if you have a policy that is governed by ERISA, and you submit some additional information, the insurance company may not allow you to submit any additional information after your initial response.
- Before you meet with potential disability insurance lawyers, gather whatever documents you can to help them evaluate what’s going on with your claim. Our firm will always want to review the insurance policy or policies. (Here’s information on how to get a copy of your policy). We typically also like to see your relevant medical records and any correspondence between you and your insurance company. If you aren’t able to locate this information, it could cause delays in starting the appeal process.
- If you are a physician or dentist that is totally disabled, you should not try to go back to work just because your insurance company thinks you don’t qualify for benefits. Trying to practice when you aren’t in a physical or mental condition to do so could cause you to re-injure yourself or accidentally harm your patients. Of course, trying to work on patients after you’ve claimed that you are totally disabled can expose you to professional liability as well. Further, trying to return to work could impair your ability to collect your benefits upon appeal.