A Physician Insurance Broker

Editor's note: Stephanie has recorded a podcast over at the Hippocratic Hustle Podcast and speaks about Disability Insurance. Incredibly informative!   

For those readers not familiar with your story, tell us how you went from being a practicing OBGYN to an insurance broker:

I was a practicing OB/GYN in a community hospital, and my patient was a lovely woman. But my patient was also well into labor, in extreme pain, and not acting like her everyday self. I had to enlist a team of four nurses to help me calm her down to ensure a safe delivery. When the baby’s heart rate fell, the situation became emergent. I reached in for the infant — and the panicked mom kicked me in my shoulder, twice. For seven months, I continued to work with a torn labrum, my pain increasing as my range of motion decreased. Despite diagnostic tests, physical exams and injections, my condition developed into adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder. I had always prided myself on my physical and emotional strength and dexterity. Now, surgical equipment became too difficult to maneuver. Deliveries became too painful to bear. I had to stop practicing, and undergo surgery. To put it mildly, the procedure was not as successful as I’d hoped. The limited mobility I regained wasn’t enough for me to continue my profession as I knew it, and I soon came to realize my immediate future would not include operating or delivering babies. The career I’d worked so long and so hard on was slipping through my hands. I was devastated, heartbroken. I was also unprepared for the next hurdle. Unbeknownst to me, workman’s compensation and my hospital-provided physician disability insurance, the safety nets I’d taken for granted as a resident and attending, did not automatically go into effect to give me the stability I’d assumed they would. Insult added to injury when I, a mother of two and my family’s primary breadwinner, suddenly faced a terrifying new financial reality: My newfound disability meant my family could lose my income. Eventually, I had to go to court to fight for, and eventually receive, the benefits I knew were rightly mine. As I went through this struggle, I found myself answering more and more questions from colleagues who, like me, assumed they were protected by their hospital- or practice-provided disability insurance policies. My physician friends now saw that they, too, could become injured or ill, and they wanted to make sure what happened to me wouldn’t happen to them. I was happy to help other attendings and residents go through their policies’ fine print, ask the right questions, and direct them toward the coverage they needed. After all, healthcare providers are my people. Of course I’d help them out. That’s when a friend in the insurance business stepped up and suggested I turn this newfound expertise of mine into a new career. At first, I balked. I was a physician: I didn’t want to give that up.

But then, I realized that being a physician put me in a unique position: I knew medicine. I knew hospitals and medical practices. Now I know disability insurance for physicians and nurses, and could speak as a doctor to other doctors and healthcare providers to help them secure their careers.

My experiences, knowledge and background could serve to connect my peers with solid, reliable and affordable disability coverage, so they would never have to endure what I did. That’s where I am today. I’m still an OB/GYN. But I’m also a hands-on advocate for physicians. We take care of others. We absolutely must take care of ourselves. My mission? Empower and educate my friends in healthcare about disability insurance.

Do you miss practicing clinical medicine?

Absolutely! I still get upset on Fridays, which was my OR day. I miss celebrating the best days of people’s lives. I miss the relationships that I had with my patients. Helping girls and women understand their health and make educated decisions about their healthcare meant so much. I have kept up with my licensing and MOC to stay current in my knowledge, and still feel like I am a valuable knowledge source for women’s health.

Besides disability insurance, do you sell other insurances?

I do. I currently sell disability, life, and business overhead insurance. I believe that when I am helping physicians obtain disability insurance, making sure that their life insurance needs are also met, is very important. Many private practice owners are not even aware of business overhead insurance. What happens to your practice if you can not work? How are the lease, employees salaries, etc. going to get paid? Will you close the doors, hire a locums or replacement? Business overhead protects you for these circumstances.

How do you differ from other brokers?

My intimate knowledge of what it means to be a physician makes me different. I lived it. I am now living the life of a disabled physician. I am emotionally involved in this process. I understand from a medical perspective what the insurance carriers are looking for from an underwriting point of view. I can advocate for my clients in a way that most traditional agents/brokers are unable to do. I am coming from a unique place when I explain the different policy options. I care most about education. I want people to really understand the language, the nuances, and the differences between carriers. I am not happy unless I know that people are making truly educated decisions.

Any advice on how to choose a broker? What makes someone a good broker?

I think that you have to trust your gut. You need to feel confident in your choice; feel comfortable asking questions and receiving feedback. I believe that a good broker will offer you options, and explain them in detail. He/she should compare apples to apples and apples to oranges. You should not feel like there is any bias in what you are being told.

What are 3 things you see that physicians don’t understand about disability insurance?

1. What they have and don’t have from their employers. It is important to review the master copy of the policy. Is their salary or complete income covered? How long is it own occupation? What is the definition of disability? 2. Whether or not their benefits are taxable or non-taxable. Most group benefits are paid for by employers, and are therefore taxable income. However, if the employee contributes to the plan, it is a tax free benefit. That affects how much benefit he/she can qualify for with a private DI policy. Private benefits are a tax free benefit. 3. The different definitions of total disability. There are multiple definitions:

  • The basic definition/modified own occupation – You are totally disabled if you can not perform  your job, AND you are not gainfully employed.
  • True own occupation/Regular occupation – You are totally disabled if you can not perform your job, REGARDLESS if you are gainfully employed in another occupation.
  • Transitional occupation – You are totally disabled if you can not perform your job, regardless if you are gainfully employed in another occupation, until your income is that of your pre-disability earnings.  There is a cap to how much you can earn.  In CA, there are certain occupational classes that can not get true own occ with certain carriers.  Several carriers will remove own occupation of they lower the benefit period, but will give the transitional definition.

You need to know what the definition is that you are purchasing!

What are 3 mistakes you see physicians make regarding disability insurance?

1. Waiting too long to purchase. I know how hard it is during training to conceive of paying for one more thing. However, it is the best time to purchase. You are the youngest you will ever be. You might qualify for a discounted rate that you will carry with you for the entirety of your career. You do not need to purchase the whole package- just get your foot in the door, and guarantee your future insurability. 2. Having colleagues write prescriptions. This is coming up a lot. There needs to be records; a paper trail. I understand professional courtesy, but the underwriters and companies do not see it that way. It is highly frowned upon, and is causing physicians to lose valuable insurance options. 3. Women not purchasing before they start family planning. The carriers will deny pregnancy coverage for all sorts of things. As an OBGYN, this is something I argue a lot! Miscarriages, infertility treatments, cesarean sections, etc .are all reasons for exclusion of pregnancy.

Anything else you would like to tell us?

Since entering this space, I have been able to help so many physicians (and non-physicians) obtain quality tailored policies. As trite as it may sound, I am really trying to clean up an industry that I believe has a long history of taking advantage of physicians. I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about Stephanie!

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