What is Partial Disability?
Should I File for Partial Disability or Total Disability?

In some instances, a disabling condition may prevent a dentist from working as much as they used to. For example, fatigue associated with an autoimmune disease like Guillain-Barre syndrome may prevent a dentist from practicing full-time, although they find they can still do certain procedures with rest in between work days.

In this instance, a dentist would not be able to file a “total disability” claim under most disability policies; however, they may be able to file a partial disability claim.

The exact definition of partial disability will vary from policy to policy (as will the definition of total disability) but typically it is defined as the ability to do some but not all of the material and substantial duties of your occupation, and/or the ability to do all the material and substantial duties of your occupation, but for less time than you have performed them in the past.

If you determine a partial disability claim is the right path for you, your insurance company will then look to establish what your prior income was and what you are currently earning, which will be used to determine what your loss of income is, and the percentage of benefits that you are eligible for. We will get into more detail regarding these calculations in a subsequent post; however, it bears mentioning that for dentists, this can be complicated.

For example, a practice owner may experience a drop in production, but not necessarily see a drop in income. There are some policies that may take this into account, such as the group policy offered by the ADA (which defines partial disability based upon a dentist’s personal production numbers instead of overall income numbers). Other policies may look at other factors during a limited initial period (e.g. 6 or 12 months), such as whether the dentist has sustained a “loss of duties” or a “loss of time.”

Insurance companies want to save money by paying out less on a claim, and often pressure dentists to keep working and file partial disability claims instead of filing for total disability. While in some instances partial disability makes sense, it is always a decision that needs to be weighed in light of safety to both yourself and patients regarding whether it is safe to keep practicing, even in a limited capacity.


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