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Disability insurance for physician assistants: What you need to know in 2021

Why PAs need disability insurance just as much as physicians do, what coverage typically costs, and how to apply for a policy online.

As a physician assistant, you’ve invested a lot of time and money into your career.

You also make a good living. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for physician assistants in 2020 was $115,390.

Imagine instead of being the doctor you become the patient with an injury or illness serious enough to limit your ability to work. In addition to losing your ability to help people get better, you could also lose some or all of your working income until you recovered — assuming you did recover.

How would this affect your family finances? How would that affect your lifestyle and your ability to provide? Would you be able to repay your student loan bills and other debts, or would you be forced into bankruptcy?

If you have disability income insurance, you wouldn’t have to worry about these questions.

Why do physician assistants need disability insurance?

Disability insurance is designed to replace a major portion of your income if you are unable to work due to injury or illness.

In exchange for your premium payments, an insurance company agrees to pay you contracted benefits if you suffer a disability that affects your ability to work. The benefits replace some or all of your lost income. Having disability insurance means being able to buy food, pay bills, and cover household expenses while you’re unable to work.

Without disability insurance, you could lose a significant amount of income and all that your income supports if you’re in a bad accident, lose your vision, or suffer an illness that affects your ability to work in medicine.

There are two main types of disability insurance benefits. Long-term disability benefits may last from five to 10 years, and some will pay up until the insured reaches age 65. Short-term disability benefits may last for about six months.

There are two main sources for where to get disability insurance: You can buy a policy that’s part of a large group plan, such as through your employer, and/or purchase your own individual disability policy.

Breeze helps PAs find affordable disability insurance.

How much does disability insurance cost for physician assistants?

When you shop for disability insurance, you should anticipate spending between 1 percent and 4 percent of your current income.

Here are examples of what physician assistants might pay in disability insurance costs:

  • A 30-year-old female physician assistant living in Providence, Rhode Island and earning $95,000 a year could get an $1800 monthly benefit for $42 a month, a $3,500 monthly benefit for $82 a month, or a $5,200 monthly benefit for $122 a month.
  • A 37-year-old male physician assistant living in Fresno, California and earning $90,000 a year could get a $1,600 monthly benefit for $40 a month, a $3,200 monthly benefit for $81 a month, or a $4,750 monthly benefit for $120 a month.
  • A 44-year-old female physician assistant living in Lexington, Kentucky and earning $100,000 a year could get an $1,800 monthly benefit for $60 a month, a $3,500 monthly benefit for $117 a month, and a $5,200 monthly benefit for $173 a month.
  • A 52-year-old female physician assistant living in Wichita, Kansas and earning $105,000 a year could get a $1,900 monthly benefit for $79 a month, a $3,700 monthly benefit for $154 a month, or a $5,590 monthly benefit for $233 a month.

All of the above rates are for a 5-year benefit period and a 90-day waiting period.

Curious what disability insurance costs? Check your rate here
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What determines how much you’ll pay?

Insurance companies set your monthly premium on the following factors:

  • Your age and health. The younger and healthier you are, the less you will pay.
  • Your income. Disability insurance is designed to replace a percentage of your income if an injury or illness limits your ability to work as an attorney.
  • Where you live.
  • The benefits and features of your disability insurance policy.

Another factors that strongly influences what you pay for disability insurance is your job.

Disability insurance companies group jobs into specific occupational classes. These classes take into account the hazards of the job and the difficulty in returning to work following a disability. Another factor is the claim experience associated with certain professions.

Insurance companies generally classify occupations on a scale of 1 to 5 or 6. Typically, the higher the numerical value of the classification the lower the rate available from the insurance company.

Many disability insurers also have separate classifications for medical professionals because they often treat each specialty as a different occupation. Medical classifications are based on the perceived risk of that specific specialty. Generally, the higher the occupational classification assigned to your profession, the lower the premium rate.

In general, the highest-risk specialties perform interventional procedures. Insurers also consider strenuous manual duties as being high-risk. Examples include anesthesiologists, registered nurses, and podiatrists. Surgeons are also grouped in high-risk occupational classes. Emergency room physicians and specialists, such as obstetricians, will be classified high-risk as well.

The lowest-risk medical specialties are those that do not typically perform surgery or interventional procedures. Examples include general practitioners, internists and family practice physicians, as well as most dental specialties.

Physician assistants are generally classified in the higher categories. One insurer rates the occupation in the 4th out of 5 classes.

What physician assistants need in disability coverage

The most important provision a physician assistant should have in disability insurance is an own-occupation feature.

What constitutes disability depends on the policy. Some are known as “own-occupation,” and will pay benefits if an injury prevents you from working at your normal job, but allows you to do other types of work.

For example, an orthopedic surgeon who develops severe arthritis can no longer work in that field. But an insurance company could argue that the surgeon could, perhaps, teach or find work in another lower-paying field. Therefore, he or she is not technically disabled.

An “own-occupation” policy would pay the former surgeon full disability benefits regardless because they would no longer be able to perform the duties of their chosen profession. Otherwise, the surgeon’s ability to work elsewhere may prevent him or her from collecting any disability benefits.

Many disability policies only pay benefit if the individual is unable to work in any capacity. While these policies are more affordable, they do not provide adequate coverage for high-earning physicians.

Some policies go a step further and recognize a medical professional’s “own-occupation” if he or she has limited their practice to a professionally recognized specialty.

Keep in mind that many insurers who offer disability insurance to doctors will only offer the “own-occupation” provision as an optional rider with an additional cost, so you will want to ensure that you purchase the rider if it’s not included in the base policy.

Plus, some policies explicitly prevent some specialists from obtaining an “own-occupation” provision, including neurosurgeons and anesthesiologists. Make sure your specialty will be covered in full before signing up for the policy.

Another provision you should consider is residual disability. This feature may provide benefits if can still work following a disability but are not considered totally disabled. It is designed to protect you against partial income loss. It comes into play if you are able to perform some, but not all, of the material duties of your occupation or if you are unable to work for a set percentage of time. Benefits are typically calculated as a percentage of your loss of earnings or what you would receive if you were unable to work.


Joel Palmer is a freelance writer and personal finance expert who focuses on the mortgage, insurance, financial services, and technology industries. He spent the first 10 years of his career as a business and financial reporter.

The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

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