[Editor's Note: I came across a physician actually living off the proceeds of his disability insurance. He was initially hesitant to share his story with you, but after promising a reasonable level of anonymity, he relented. As you know, I have no financial relationship with Berkshire, but the guest writer obviously gets a paycheck from them each month. Be kind in your comments and realize that requests for more details may be denied to preserve anonymity.]
In November of 2010, I fell and sustained a closed head injury. Acutely, I had a severe headache, disorientation, and complete amnesia for three days prior and two days after the fall. No focal injury was identified. For six months after the injury, I had debilitating headaches, irritability, and noticeable difficulty with spatial orientation and mechanical tasks, like parking the car. Neuropsychiatric testing revealed I was depressed, intellectually intact, but with cognitive impairment in three dimensions.
For these reasons, I was never able to return to the fast pace and high acuity of ED practice.
My First Disability
I had purchased two occupation-specific long-term disability insurance policies through Guardian/Berkshire in my first year of practice. They weren’t inexpensive–about $1,500 per year. I would occasionally consider letting them lapse but, at age 40, I suffered an acute herniated disc with residual paresis of my left leg. After the 90-day waiting period, I collected partial disability for three months while I worked part-time.
My first experience with claiming and collecting was uneventful. There was a fair amount of initial paperwork for both me and my neurosurgeon, but that was easy to complete. Payments were retroactive to the 90-day start and tax-free.
My Second Disability
As it became clear I would not return to the ED after the head injury, I applied again for disability. In discussion with my physicians, we elected to use major depression and anxiety as a diagnosis rather than closed head injury. I was six months out from the fall and my symptoms were improving, but for other reasons, I did not think I could return to the ED. My psychiatrist agreed, so once again, I applied for disability.
I was assigned a very competent caseworker who took me through the paperwork process. It was not onerous for doctor or patient. Medical Records had to be pushed a little, but the doctors’ offices were prompt in supplying the information. The only difficulty I had was the billing company at my last job refusing to release my CPT codes and RVU data. I should have kept better track of my billing on my own so that I had copies of the information the company required (although in the end, it didn't matter as the caseworker managed to get me my full policy limits anyway).
My Life Now
The policy doesn't pay me a lot of money compared to my salary, just 2,800 tax-free dollars per month. There has been an impact on our daily life, but I don’t consider that to be a hardship. I wish I had more coverage, of course; three to four times what I have would be necessary if I was single or a parent. The premiums would have been a hardship early on in my career, but I could have done it and still continued to save for retirement (contributed from the start and have >$500,000 still in diversified assets).
Now, I fill out a very brief form monthly, and my doctor does an even shorter form every three months. There has never been a question about returning to the ED or to any type of medical employment. My caseworker is available and seems to have my best interest at heart. Overall, I would recommend as much coverage as you can get with a good disability insurance company. If you need them, they are there, hassle-free and low-maintenance.
What do you think? Have you ever had to use your disability policy? What was your experience? Comment below!