‘Own occupation’ benefit protects doctors’ futures

May 25, 2018
AOAExcel® makes understanding, selecting disability insurance easy.
AOAExcel® makes understanding, selecting disability insurance easy.

'Life happens' may be a euphemism for the unimaginable—but not the unthinkable—considering those words got Devin Wieseckel, O.D., mulling over his own future.

"I've invested eight years of my life to obtain my degree and have planned my entire future around that degree," says Dr. Wieseckel, a 2017 Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry graduate. "Simply knowing that it could all be taken away at a moment's notice, and you could be left with hefty bills and the stress of not knowing how to provide for your future or family, was overwhelming."

That line of thinking started a conversation, one that was facilitated by colleagues in the group practice in Smyrna, Georgia, where Dr. Wieseckel currently practices. In fact, the practice outright encouraged him to consider taking steps to protect his future. As anyone in health care can tell you: anything can happen to anyone at any time.

"Being prepared, whether being a doctor or patient, is crucial in knowing how to manage or care for the situation and its long-term effects," he says.

That's why Dr. Wieseckel turned to the business and career solutions offered through AOAExcel® and its endorsed business partners.

Policies tailored for optometry

Through its partnership with AGIA, AOAExcel sponsors a suite of insurance policies, programs and products that are specifically tailored to the needs of doctors of optometry—among them group long-term disability insurance that can protect Dr. Wieseckel's optometric career. But what ultimately convinced Dr. Wieseckel that he'd found the best solution for his needs were the words 'own  occupation benefit.'

Not all disability insurance is alike; what matters is in the fine print. Many insurance companies consider a doctor of optometry 'disabled' only when they are too disabled to function in any occupation whatsoever, meaning oftentimes there's a vast financial gap that might not span the expenses doctors were once able to cover.

The AOA Group Long-Term Disability Income Insurance Plan, underwritten by New York Life Insurance Company, helps ease these concerns, because the 'own occupation benefit' means a participating doctor of optometry is disabled as soon as they are unable to effectively function as a doctor of optometry. That's why AOA made sure this Group Disability Income Insurance Plan featured generous coverage up to $7,500 in monthly benefits. And, on top of that, employees of AOA members can apply for monthly benefits up to $3,000 as long as their benefit amount doesn't exceed 65% of their pay.

Guy Patterson, AGIA VP and managing director of account management, says many professionals think that first step in choosing the best disability insurance is how much monthly benefit they will receive and how long they can wait for the benefit payments to start so that they can maintain a comfortable cost of living. However, that can be a moot point if the insurer doesn't consider the beneficiary disabled.

"Therefore, the first step in choosing the best disability insurance for you and your family is ensuring it takes effect when you are not able to work as a doctor of optometry, and not an insurance that only takes effect when you are not able to work in any occupation," Patterson says. "This is the 'own occupation' benefit, clearly stated in AOAExcel's disability insurance policy."

Importance of protection: Top 5 causes of disability

May is Disability Insurance Awareness month, a public observance dedicated to the importance of income protection for times when life's hardships affect our ability to work. It's a critical issue considering the Social Security Administration estimates 1 in 4 people age 20 today will be disabled before reaching 67 years old, and the slim majority of people say they don't have enough rainy-day funds to cover three months out should something happen.

Don't think it could happen to you? Below are the top five reasons why people are out of work for three months or longer, per the Council for Disability Awareness (CDA):

  1. Bone, joint pain. Muscle, back and joint pain count for more than one in four long-term disabilities, according to CDA.
  2. Cancer. Each year more than 70,000 people in their 20s and 30s are diagnosed with cancer, ranging from lymphoma and leukemia to breast cancer.
  3. Pregnancy complications. Although short-term disability often helps cover time off associated with child birth when accrued time concludes, sometimes complications can keep mothers out of work for weeks, if not months, on end.
  4. Accidental injuries. About one in 10 long-term disability claims are caused by injuries and poisonings, the CDA says.
  5. Mental health. Again, one in 10 long-term disability claims are attributed to mental disorders, the CDA says.  

Adds Dr. Wieseckel: "We have all seen those patients and think, 'how did that happen to you?' That's why I would recommend that everyone look into disability insurance to protect you and your family's future."

Read how AOA members can benefit from the business and career solutions offered by AOAExcel.

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