Many young physicians dream of the freedom of opening their own private practice, mid-career. But sometimes the ability to fulfill one’s dreams gets hampered by decisions you make in your 20s.
Recently, we had a call from a young surgeon, 36 years old, who was planning to open up a new practice with a few colleagues. Financially, it would have been a great move for him. He had cut his teeth and got some great experience working in a large orthopedic practice and was ready to take his career to the next level.
The problem: He had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Disability Planning Should Protect Against Young Adult Disease Onset
This devastating neuromuscular disease has a typical onset or diagnosis between ages 20 and 40. Yes, it is possible to keep working for a long time with MS, with some accommodations, depending on one’s job duties. But our young surgeon wanted to know if he could buy a new disability insurance policy on the private market before he left his secure employer’s group policy.
Sadly, I had to tell him he couldn’t.
Once you have a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, or any similar condition, it becomes impossible to purchase a disability income insurance policy on the individual market. That’s a big problem for this doctor, his wife and his two young children.
Don't Let Time Work Against You
There are a lot of conditions that have a potential early adulthood or mid-career onset that can make it difficult if not impossible for you to buy needed disability protection – even while you’re just getting started. Hep B, anxiety/depression, Parkinson’s Disease, cancer, or even a simple but severe back injury playing racquetball or suffered in a car accident can put the brakes on obtaining disability protection… if you don’t already have it.
That’s why I firmly believe the time to initiate private, individual disability insurance coverage is when you’re young. Buy disability insurance while young, ideally, when you’re in medical school, residency, or when you’re getting your first steady paychecks.
Consider these statistics:
- Some 350,000 to 500,000 Americans currently live with multiple sclerosis, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation
- There are 200 new multiple sclerosis diagnoses every week.
- 37 million Americans are now classified as disabled.
- 12 percent of Americans are classified as disabled, but less than half of them receive SSI.
- 3 out of every 10 of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled for at least six months prior to retirement.
Fortunately, the doctor in question did have coverage from a group plan at his current employer. His family cannot afford the risk of a lengthy income interruption due to disability, though, so he cannot leave his current employer to start a private practice. For the time being, this young physician is going to have to set aside his dream and leave it unfulfilled.
A Different Outcome
Now, let’s explore an alternate scenario: Suppose this doctor had purchased a disability income policy while still a resident, before his MS diagnosis.
In that case, he would have had a fully-portable policy he could take with him no matter where he was employed. The policy would have been guaranteed-renewable and non-cancelable, which means the insurance company could not unilaterally cancel the policy, except for fraud, as long as the doctor paid his premiums. The policy would also provide a guaranteed insurability option, allowing him to buy more coverage in the future regardless of his MS diagnosis or health.
He could have started up his new independent, private practice – with the security and peace of mind knowing that even if he could not work anymore, he would still be able to provide for his wife and children.
Here's the takeaway
Disability is far more common than death among people younger than 40. Disability insurance is generally very inexpensive for healthy individuals in their 20s and 30s. It is designed to protect your income. The time to protect your income is as soon as you have an income and career to protect (or in the case of medical students, before you even have an income). Get a private disability plan in place in an amount you can easily afford – early in your career.
Unlike fine wine, health generally doesn’t improve with age. The best time to get coverage is when you’re convinced you’ll never need it.
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