Plight of NFL Players Underscores Value of Own Occupation Disability Insurance
Suppose you were a professional football player in the NFL. Not one of the marquis names, and not a quarterback. Just an anonymous foot soldier on the offensive or defensive line. Someone who made it through college by the skin of his teeth who’s a darned good left tackle but has never really done anything else.
In that case, you’d have a lot riding on not getting injured. The median salary for an NFL player is $770,000 per year. But if you get hurt, and can’t play, you don’t get paid – by the football team, anyway.
Nevertheless, if you broke a femur on the field, or wrecked your Ferrari, or just got sick or hurt doing something else, there’s not much you can do to approach the kind of money you were making when you were suiting up for an NFL team.
That’s why pro football players and their unions often buy a special kind of own-occupation disability insurance. Football is a brutal contact sport, and the risk of a career-ending disability is high in any position.
Yes, they are generally covered by the League for injuries sustained on the field. But there are lots of ways to get hurt or injured that occur off the field as well. Workers compensation insurance and its variants don’t cover these off-the-job injuries and illnesses. For that, you need a broad disability insurance policy.
Not every player buys it. Some choose to self-insure by spending almost nothing from their first year or two in the league. Even if they have to leave the league, they have a nice cushion built up, if they’re careful. But an increasing number of NFL football players are choosing to insure themselves against career disruption, whether by illness or injury.
Now, athletes’ disability insurance is a very specialized line. Typically, professional athletes have to purchase it before the season begins – and it’s of course, expensive. We are talking about people who shove and tackle and get shoved and tackled for a living. But to secure their futures against the possibility of injury, they must get a particular kind of policy: an ‘own occupation’ policy.
Why? Because for the vast majority of professional football players, there is nothing else they can do that would pay anything close to the median salary of an NFL player. Some of the marquis names will be able to get high-profile media jobs, and a few will become successful investors, post-career. But they need to earn the money, before they can invest it. The vast majority of these players would experience a massive lifestyle change, for the worst, if they couldn’t play football because of illness or injury.
As physicians – or soon-to-be physicians, you are in a similar boat. Indeed, when you compare physicians lifetime earnings with those of a professional football player, many of you stand to make even more money – and lose even more money than an injured football player, because unlike a football player who stretches to have a 10 year career in most positions, you should expect to earn a physician’s income for 20, 30 or even 40 years.
Most of you would experience a substantial lifestyle hit if you could no longer work as physicians – especially earlier in your careers before you have an opportunity to amass much in the way of savings to cushion the blow. For that protection to have meaning, though, it must be an ‘own occupation’ policy. That is, benefits must kick in when an illness or disability prevents you from earning a living as a physician. It doesn’t make much sense to get a policy that won’t pay benefits if you can still fog a mirror and work in some job that is far beneath your current income potential.
Fortunately, while your initial earnings may be lower than an NFL player’s, so are your disability insurance plans. Indeed, it’s surprisingly easy for doctors, residents, and even medical school students to start building a foundation of income protection. Most carriers have programs in place designed to be realistic options for younger physicians – which enable you to obtain additional protection as your careers develop and your incomes increase.