When purchasing individual disability insurance, it is important to meet with an independent agent who can sell you a policy from any of the “big six” insurance companies, Guardian (Berkshire), Standard, Metlife, Ameritas, Principal, and MassMutual. One of the reasons for this is that for your state, gender, and especially specialty, one company's policy may be much cheaper than a similar policy offered by another company.

Your specialty, or occupational class, is one way in which these companies stratify the financial risk they are taking insuring you. As a general rule, procedurally oriented doctors, such as surgeons and dentists, are in a lower (meaning more expensive) occupational class than a non-procedurally oriented doctor. However, as you compare the occupational classes across the various companies, you occasionally see a discrepancy, where a particular specialty is in a higher or lower occupational class than you might expect. For a doctor shopping for disability insurance, you would want to give special consideration to a company's policy which placed you in a higher classification than the other companies did.

It becomes difficult to compare apples to apples, however, because while most companies use occupational classes 3,4, and 5 for physicians, two of the companies, namely MetLife and Ameritas, put doctors in classes 4, 5, and 6. It is probably best to subtract a class from those two companies when making comparisons. Principal uses just 4 and 5 for doctors.

Some Big Caveats

This information was current when I wrote this post (August 2014) but will rapidly become out of date as companies change these classes from time to time. Plus, I may have made a mistake transcribing them. Also, where you see a blank spot in the chart, don't assume they don't offer a policy for that occupation. I simply didn't have the information, so I left it out. This information, while hardly secret, is generally considered “for producer use only” and not for public consumption. But hey, isn't lifting the hood on how the industry really works what this blog is all about? At any rate, you can't, and shouldn't, buy a policy without involving an agent, so you might as well get a knowledgeable independent one to help you compare policies. Now, without further ado, the list of specialties with their associated Occupational Class.

Specialty Guardian Standard MetLife Ameritas Principal MassMutual
Nurse practitioner 3M  3A,4P  4M 5M  3A 3A
Physician Assistant 4M 3A, 4P 5I 5M  3A  3A
CRNA 3M 3P  4M 3M  3A 3A
Allergy 4M 4P 6M 6M 4M 5P
Anesthesia 3M 3P 4M 4M 4M 3P
Cardiology 4M 4P 5M 5M 4M 5P
Interventional cardiology  4N 4P 4M 5M  4M 3P
CV Surgery 3M 3P  5M 4M 4M 3P
Dentist 3M 3P  4M 4M  4M  3P
Dermatology 4M 4P  5M 6M 4M 4P or 5P
Emergency Medicine 3M 3P 4M 4M 4M 3P
Endocrinology 5M 4P  6M 6M 5M 5P
Endodontists 4M 4P  5D 5M 4P or 5P
Family Medicine 4M 4P 6M 6M 5M 5P
Gastroenterology 5M 4P 6M 6M 5M 4P
General Practice 4M 4P 6M  6M 5M  5P
Geriatrics 5M 4P 6M  6M 5M 5P
Gyn Onc 3M 3P  4M  6M  4M  3P
Hematology 5M 4P 5M 6M 5M 5P
Hospitalist 5M 4P  6M 6M  5M 5P
Immunology 4M 4P  5M  5M 5M 5P
Internal Medicine 4M 4P 6M 6M 5M 5P
Neonatology 5M 4P 6M 5M 5M 5P
Nephrology 5M 4P 6M 5M 5M 5P
Neurology 4M 4P 6M 6M 5M 5P
Neurosurgery 3M 3P  5M 4M 4M  3P
OB/GYN 3M 3P 4M 5M 4M 4P
Oncology 5M 4P 6M 5M 5M 5P
Ophthalmology 4M 4P 5M 5M 4M 3P
Oral Surgery 4M 3P  5D 4M  4M 4P
Orthodontist 4M 4P  5D 5M  4M 4P
Orthopedics 3M 3P 4M  4M 4M 3P
Otolaryngology 3M 4P 5M 5M 4M 4P
Pain Medicine 3M 3P  4M  4M or 5M 4M 3P
Pathology 4M 4P 5M 6M 5M 5P
Pediatric Dentist 4M 4P  5D 5M  4M 4P
Pediatrician 5M 4P 6M 6M 5M 5P
Periodontist 4M 4P  5D 5M  4M 4P
Physiatry 4M 4P 6M 5M 5M 5P
Plastic Surgery 3M 3P  5M  4M 4M  3P
Podiatry 3M  3A, 2P 2M  3A 4P
Prosthodontists 4M 4P  5D 5M  4A 4P
Psychiatry 4M 4P 4M 5M 5M 5P
Pulmonology 5M 4P 5M 5M 5M 5P
Rad Onc 4M  4P  5M  5M  5M  4P
Radiology 4M 4P 5M 6M 5M 5P
Interventional radiology  4M 4P 4M  5M 4M 4P
Rheumatology 5M 4P 6M 6M 5M 5P
General Surgeon 3M 3P 5M 4M 4M  3P
Urology 4M 4P 5M 5M 4M 4P


A Few Unique Situations

Let's take a look at a few of the current discrepancies that might be useful for you.

Nurse Practitioners

The 5M class with Ameritas is markedly better than the 3M, 3A classes available by the other two companies. Be sure to include an Ameritas policy when shopping.


Principal and Mass Mutual will put you in a higher classification than the others.


Principal offers a higher occupational class than the other companies.


MassMutual offers a higher occupational class than the other companies, but not if you do interventional cards

Cardiovascular Surgery

Might want to avoid Principal given that it thinks you're higher risk than the other companies do.

Hike it like you stole it! Mt. Timpanogos, UT

Hike it like you stole it!
Mt. Timpanogos, UT


You get the highest classification only with Ameritas.

Emergency Medicine, Neurosurgery, Orthopedics, Pain Medicine, and Plastic Surgery

These doctors are usually put into the riskiest class (3 or 4 depending on the company.) But they can often get a little cheaper policy with Principal since their lowest doctor class if 4.

Endocrinology, Geriatrics, Hospitalists, Hematology, Oral Surgery, and Pediatrics

Might want to avoid Standard, which seems to think you're higher risk than everyone else does.

Family Practice, Immunology, Neurology

Beware Guardian and Standard


Beware Standard and Mass Mutual

Internal Medicine

Might want to avoid Guardian, Standard, and Metlife

Neonatology and Nephrology

Might want to avoid Standard, Metlife, and Ameritas


Ameritas, Principal, and MassMutual put you into a relatively attractive occupational class compared to the others.


Might want to avoid Standard and Ameritas


Anything but MassMutual.


That Guardian policy that you always hear “has the best benefits” is going to cost you even more to get compared to a rival policy.


Ameritas, Principal, and Mass Mutual are worth looking at.


MetLife, Principal, and Mass Mutual think you're lower risk.


Mass Mutual seems a great place to start looking.


Principal and Mass Mutual rank you one class higher than the others.


Take a special look at Guardian, Principal, and Mass Mutual.


Ameritas and Mass Mutual seem particularly attractive, especially if you don't do any interventional work.


Might want to avoid Standard and MetLife

General Surgery

MetLife and Principal ought to be included in your search.


Disability insurance is complicated stuff. There is a lot more to buying a policy than just which occupational class the company assigns you to. However, this little exercise should give you a little more understanding into why a good agent might not even bother showing you policies from particular companies. It also demonstrates that there is no “best policy,” just the best one for your desired coverage, state, gender, health status, and specialty. Shop carefully my friends.

What do you think? Did anything in this table surprise you? Why or why not? Which company did you buy your policy from? Comment below!


Who did you buy your main individual disability insurance policy from?

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