Inside Dentistry
March 2007
Volume 3, Issue 3

Using Your Insurance: Dentist Works Around His Disability

At a time when many dentists are contemplating retirement, 63-year-old David Murphy, DDS, is busier than ever, despite a disability that forced him to leave his dental practice 12 years ago.

"Before I became disabled, I ate, slept, and breathed dentistry," Dr. Murphy says. "So when I was diagnosed with degenerative osteoarthritis in my thoracic spine, I was totally shocked to realize that I had a condition that would take me away from the work I loved. I decided that I had to find ways to work around my disability."


As the dentist from Kalamazoo, Michigan, contemplated his future, the disability income insurance he had purchased 8 years earlier kept money flowing to his family. "Having a regular source of income was such a blessing," he says.

Dr. Murphy owns a policy that defines disability relative to his own occupation (ie, dentistry), rather than a policy that only pays if the insured is unable to work in any occupation. "I can’t practice clinical dentistry, but I’m not totally disabled," Dr. Murphy explains. "An ‘any occupation’ plan might mean that I wouldn’t qualify for benefits if I earned income from teaching or consulting."

Instead, the income provided by Dr. Murphy’s disability policy, the American Dental Association (ADA) Income Protection Plan, gave him the freedom to consider many options. "It was also reassuring to know that, unlike some disability policies, the ADA Income Protection Plan would not reduce my benefit if I decided to earn income in a new occupation," he says.

As Dr. Murphy began exploring career choices, a friend suggested that he look into teaching part-time at a dental school. "He told me, ‘Help young students become what you are," says Dr. Murphy.

Today, Dr. Murphy teaches head and neck anatomy and the use of local anesthesia at Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Department of Dental Hygiene. He also stays busy with two consulting projects. One involves the development of a new dental device. The other is reviewing patient records for quality assurance for a dental group that operates 10 clinics for patients who are underinsured or uninsured.

"Still, all three jobs put together would not bring in enough income to live comfortably," Dr. Murphy says. "My disability insurance makes all the difference."


Dr. Murphy does have a few regrets about his insurance, though. "I wish I had taken advantage of the insurance company’s offers to increase my coverage while I was still healthy," he says. "I also wish I had added a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) option to my policy to protect against inflation—it would have incrementally increased my monthly benefit amount every year. Looking back over 12 years, COLA would have been well worth the extra cost."

Cathryn Hopson, a plan specialist at Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Company, which underwrites and administers the disability policy that Dr. Murphy has through the ADA Insurance Plans, encourages dentists to carefully evaluate disability plans before making a purchase. For example, she recommends that dentists make sure that the policy’s "own occupation" provision applies throughout the life of a claim.

"Some plans only consider a period of ‘own occupation’ for the first couple of years of disability, then revert to an ‘any occupation’ definition of disability, which is harder for the dentist to satisfy," Ms. Hopson explains. She also underscores the advantage of a plan that does not reduce benefits if a dentist earns income from another occupation.

Adds Dr. Murphy, "My advice is to look at your disability policy at least every 3 to 5 years to make sure the coverage stays adequate as your income grows. If not, increase your insurance while you can. If I could qualify medically to buy more coverage today, I would be the first one in line."

Editor’s note: Dr. Murphy’s statements were obtained by Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Company, relative to his coverage under Group Policy No. 1105GDH-IPP, and reprinted with permission. For more information, visit www.insurance.ada.org or call 1-888-463-4545. This article does not constitute legal, tax, or financial advice; please seek professional input as appropriate to your situation.

Dr. David Murphy

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