This is part two in a series on disability insurance.  If you missed part one, go back and read it here first.

At 4 am the other day I found myself climbing up Mt. Hood, outside Portland, Oregon.  My world was reduced to the area illuminated by my headlamp as I carefully worked my way up the mountain, digging my ice axe into the snow and ice for security and carefully placing my feet, now covered with stiff mountaineering boots and twelve 2-inch spikes called crampons, to ensure I didn't slide off the mountain.

As dawn rose, along with the temperature and my spirits, I recalled that my disability insurance doesn't cover this activity, so I ought to be extra careful.  Perhaps that was why I found myself carrying far more safety gear than anyone else I saw on the mountain that day.  A 50 meter rope, several 2 foot spikes to attach the rope to the mountain, a harness, a helmet, an avalanche transceiver, ascenders to climb out of a crevasse if necessary, and enough slings, carabiners, pulleys, and first aid gear to rescue not only my partner and me, but also anyone else who got into trouble on the mountain that day.  Overkill?  Probably.  But far cheaper than the alternative-losing my ability to make money.

Risky Hobbies = Bad

Insurers don't like to insure people who engage in risky hobbies.  Unfortunately, my hobby is one that makes the standard list of risky hobbies.  Others include SCUBA diving, flying airplanes, and parachuting.  This really irks me since it leaves out a lot of things that I feel are more risky than my particular bad habits.  Bungee jumping?  Apparently okay.  Skiing?  No problem there.  Never mind that I know skiers who go down chutes I wouldn't climb up no matter how much safety gear I had on and I know several backcountry skiers who have been partially buried in avalanches.  4-wheelers?  Despite all the ATV injuries I see in the emergency department, that's apparently okay with all the actuaries at the insurance companies.  Mountain biking, cycling on busy city streets, bow-hunting grizzly bears- all okay.

Honesty is the Best Policy?

So when I applied for insurance as a resident, I was honest and admitted that I occasionally climb.  A follow-up questionnaire clarified how often I climb, how far I travel to do it, what safety gear I use, and what types of climbing I do.  The end result?  My life insurance was three times as expensive as it otherwise would be and my disability insurance carried a rider that says it won't pay if I become disabled while climbing.  Although I was able to obtain cheaper life insurance in later years when I wasn't climbing much, I still have the same disability policy and it is unlikely that with or without blatantly lying that I will ever have one that covers climbing injuries.

There are three morals to this story.  First, be careful what you tell an insurance company.  The best time to apply is when you haven't done any “risky activities” for a year or two.  Perhaps a busy period at work such as residency or fellowship.  Second, get insurance BEFORE taking up a new dangerous hobby.  If you're thinking about becoming a private pilot or going skydiving, update your life and disability insurance policies 3-6 months before you make any firm plans.  Last, if I have an accident climbing and it looks like I'm probably going to be disabled the rest of my life, you better push me off the mountain and finish me off.

Other Excluded Stuff

There are other things that disability policies don't cover.  Here's a partial list:

  1. War or act of war (with our current War on Terror, this could probably be interpreted pretty broadly)
  2. Active Military Duty (having served, this is pretty stupid since 95%+ of our military folks are never in any kind of serious danger of being hurt by a combatant)
  3. Normal Pregnancy (don't want to work because you're 8 months pregnant?  Don't bother trying to get disability benefits for that)
  4. Foreign Travel (varies by policy, but many don't cover you during that European vacation, must less that humanitarian trip to Sudan-read the fine print)
  5. Mental/Nervous Disorder (many companies limit benefits to two years, where they might pay for “physical” disorders until you're 65 years old)
  6. Medical Exclusions (any medical conditions you have at the time the policy is issued will likely be excluded, meaning if you have heart disease at the time of issuance, and it leads to you being disabled 5 years later, the policy isn't going to pay.  Again, apply when you are young and healthy and/or when you haven't had medical problems for several years to minimize this.)

Next time we'll discuss the importance of how your disability insurance contract defines disability.  Read part 3 of this series here (or go back and read part 1 here)

What do you think? Do you have any exclusions on your insurance? Did you have to pay extra because of your hobbies? Comment below!