Being a nurse comes with a relatively high income, a meaningful career, and the ability to have in-demand skills that almost always put you at an advantage when seeking employment. However, it’s not a career that is without its risks, and if you don’t have disability insurance, your dream career can take a sudden downturn if you become too ill or injured to work, and that could be financially crippling.
In 2023, you should really consider at least some form of disability insurance for nurses. There are a lot of reasons for this, and we’re going to take you through each one while highlighting the information you need to make a proper decision when purchasing your disability insurance policy.
What is Disability Insurance?
Disability insurance is a form of private insurance policy that will provide you with income if you become unable to execute your job duties due to an injury or severe illness.
There are typically two types of disability insurance policies: Short-term disability insurance and long-term disability insurance.
While both of these products are very similar, they serve different purposes, and nurses should seriously consider both.
Why is Disability Insurance for Nurses Important?
As a nurse, you have a high income, and typically really good employer benefits. So, why do you need disability insurance?
To put it bluntly, your job comes with a lot of risks. As a nurse, you are frequently putting yourself in harm’s way to take care of others. Even with proper PPE usage, you are far more vulnerable to illness, disease, and even injury than the average worker. In fact, nurses are some of the most likely employees to develop a disabling illness on the job in 2022 ((1)).
While your employer likely provides you with paid time off, illnesses such as Covid-19 and other contagious illnesses found in hospital environments can put you out of work for months. This means that, once your paid time off runs out, you can end up sitting at home with no income coming in, but your everyday expenses and illness-related treatment bills will continue to stack up. This can be a major hit to your savings and your financial state.
Additionally, many nurses these days are doing shift work, and therefore not employed by a hospital or other medical facility. Instead, they are freelance or contract nurses, and if you are a contract nurse then you mostly like do not get any benefits that you can use in the event you’re unable to work for a prolonged period of time. And if that’s the case, then you’ll have no income coming in and no benefits to rely on to help you get you through a period of a disability.
Disability insurance can help pay 50% to 100% of your normal income while you recover and greatly reduce the financial stress you have to deal with. Of course it depends on the type of policy you get, but covering a large portion of your income is possible. Make sure you know reasons for long term care insurance rejection.
What is Short-Term Disability Insurance?
Short-term disability insurance is exactly what it sounds like. It covers your income when you suffer from short-term disabling illnesses or injuries.
A short-term disability policy has a few things going for it. First, it typically only takes about two weeks for a claim to be approved once you make a claim with your insurance provider. It also can cover up to 100% of your income, which means you likely won’t have to adjust your spending to deal with a lower income level throughout your disability. Granted, each policy has its own specific benefits, and your full income may not be covered. But you can explore those options when you work with an insurance agent or broker.
Short-term disability also covers a fair number of conditions, and it can be relatively inexpensive if you purchase it when you’re younger. We’ll cover the costs in a later section.
Short-term disability is meant to cover lapses in income lasting between three and six months. However, if you have it in conjunction with a long-term disability insurance plan, it may stay in effect for up to 52 weeks while you wait for your long-term disability insurance to kick in ((2)).
One thing to consider with this is that if you’re employed by a hospital or other medical facility, then you likely already receive some good benefits from your employer, and most disability insurance policies will require you to use any paid time off benefits and sick leave before receiving your benefits. If you get weeks or months’ worth of benefits, your claim might be of minimal use. But, don’t forget that it can be crucial as a transitory insurance plan for long-term disabilities, though.
What is Long-Term Disability Insurance?
Long-term disability insurance is very similar to short-term disability insurance, but it’s meant to cover your income during more long-term periods of time from longer-lasting situations that cause a disability.
The exact conditions will be covered soon, but examples are conditions like cancer and other illnesses that don’t just go away with a few months of recovery. They can have lingering effects and longer treatments, and in many circumstances, people will be unable to work for a long period of time.
Long-term disability takes months to get approved most of the time, and this is why short-term disability is highly recommended for nurses. While your employer benefits might cover the vast majority of things the average person faces, if you end up needing long-term disability, the short-term policy can cover you while you wait for your long-term benefits to kick in.
Long-term disability can last for anywhere from six months to years, and it all depends on what disability you’re facing, and the details of your specific policy.
How Much Does Disability Insurance Cost?
Disability insurance typically increases in price as you age. If you purchase a policy when you’re young, typically under the age of 40, you can expect to pay just a little more than $1000 per year with the right policy. By age 50, that number could be doubled for the same policy. At 60, you can expect it to be three or more times as much ((3))
However, there is a way to use this to your advantage. Rather than opt-out of coverage entirely, you can begin a policy when you’re younger, and then adjust your coverage as you age to be more comprehensive since your chances of becoming disabled or unable to work for a prolonged period of time typically increases as you age.
Also keep in mind that short-term and long-term disability insurance policies are sold separately, but you can usually get them from the same provider to keep your bills easy to manage.
What Does Disability Insurance for Nurses Cover?
The conditions covered by disability insurance depend on whether you’re claiming a short-term policy or long-term policy. It’s important you know what does disability insurance cover.
Short-Term Disability Insurance Coverage:
Heart-Attacks and Strokes:
As a nurse, you’re often subjected to a lot of stress, poor sleep cycles, and perhaps even poor eating and exercise habits. It’s ironic given your career in the health field, but it’s an unfortunate fact. All of these things can lead up to having heart attacks and strokes at an early age. If you survive the incident, it can take months to recover.
In a hospital environment, you are constantly exposed to contagious illnesses such as Covid-19, serious forms of the flu, and other things that the average American can more easily avoid. Even with proper PPE, you can become infected and miss out on months of work while you recover.
Car Accident Injuries:
Car accidents often cause injuries that prevent you from working in the fast-paced medical field for an extended period. You can’t lift patients or stay on your feet for a 48-hour shift when you’re suffering from extreme injuries, and it can take months to properly heal.
Whether you hurt yourself lifting a heavy patient, you’re exposed to an erratic patient who causes an injury, or the lack of sleep that often affects people in your position causes an unfortunate slip, you are at risk of workplace injuries that prevent you from performing your job duties for an extended period.
If you are pregnant, then you’ll be happy to know that many short-term disability insurance policies can cover your income while you take time off for prenatal care. This is extremely useful during the later trimesters when you really shouldn’t be exposing yourself and your unborn child to the harsh realities of a hospital environment. Also, when paired with maternity leave often offered by hospital employers, this can allow you to have the smoothest pregnancy possible without losing your income entirely.
Long-Term Disability Insurance Coverage:
Long-term disability insurance covers more ongoing conditions. While many of the conditions covered by short-term disability insurance are serious, they still heal in a relatively short time once treated. The following long-term conditions aren’t like that.
Issues such as COPD, collapsed lungs, and other respiratory issues can be debilitating, and long-term disability insurance will cover your income while you heal or follow a treatment plan.
Working with cancer is typically incredibly difficult, and even when it is, it’s not desirable by many. Between treatments, the debilitating side effects, and astronomical medical bills, it’s important to have time off while still bringing in income. Long-term disability insurance can help with that.
Nurses are often required to move quickly, lift or carry heavy patients and equipment, and generally live very athletic lives during their shifts. Chronic pain can make that impossible, but it’s also unlikely to go away. Disability insurance can cover your income and prevent you from having to suffer through that pain.
Autoimmune disorders can make any job impossible, but the added risk of constant exposure to germs in a hospital environment makes nursing a risky option. If you develop an autoimmune disorder, you might need long-term disability insurance to maintain your income.
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Is Disability Insurance for Nurses Worth it?
If you’re a nurse, and you don’t have disability insurance, you’re playing a risky game. You’re a high-income earner, you’re at a much higher risk of catching a serious illness than most of the population, and even if you’re young, you may find yourself becoming too sick or injured, causing a disability that prevents you from working for a prolonged period.
Both forms of disability insurance are worth it. While the premiums can be high, and you likely receive some attractive employer benefits, long-term disability insurance can easily become a necessity before you hit retirement age, and short-term disability insurance might be a necessary transitory option while you wait for long-term approval. Short-term disability insurance might also be your only option to ensure a healthy pregnancy if you’re looking to have children without exposing yourself to the harshness of a hospital environment while carrying your child. In fact, it’s estimated that 1 in 10 nurses miscarry due to on-the-job exposure to chemicals and other problematic substances ((4)); making it even more appealing to simply claim a short-term disability insurance policy throughout your pregnancy instead of pushing through work.
While it may seem like a hefty annual expense, any nurse should strive to buy both a short-term and long-term disability insurance policy as soon as possible.
Who Doesn’t Need Disability Insurance?
There is one big exclusion to the suggestion above: People who are close to retirement.
Disability insurance is only used before you fully retire. Once you hit the age where you qualify for full retirement benefits, you no longer receive disability insurance benefits. You’ll move on to other preemptive insurance measures to maintain your financial security.
If you have somehow avoided disability insurance up to the age of 64, and you’re gearing up for retirement at 65, it most likely isn’t worth going through the application process or paying the one annual premium you’ll be responsible for.
In fact, some soon-to-be retirees retire early when they’re in this age range, because it’s easier to temporarily take reduced benefits than it is to go through the complicated process of getting approved for long-term disability insurance claims, and claims can be made retroactively if they are suddenly approved ((5)).
How to Purchase Disability Insurance for Nurses
Disability insurance can be a complicated form of insurance to purchase. You pay for coverage based on how much of a benefit payment you expect to need, it changes as you age, and there are some tactics you may need to consider if you’re close to retirement and suddenly develop a long-term disability.
Figuring all that out on your own is a difficult task, and it’s recommended to instead speak to a qualified insurance professional such as Policy Solver.
An insurance consultant can utilize the latest software, a career’s worth of insurance knowledge, and many different insurance carrier contracts to help you find a disability insurance policy that will provide you with optimal coverage at an affordable cost; all while considering your unique circumstances.
1: Taken from CDC.gov, 02/10/2022, https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/10/11/04-0253_article
2: Taken from Exactly How Long, 02/10/2022, https://exactlyhowlong.com/how-long-is-short-term-disability-and-why/
3: Taken from PolicyGenius Cost Calculator, 02/10/2022, https://www.policygenius.com/disability-insurance/disability-insurance-rates-by-age/
4: Taken from Reuters, 02/10/2022, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nurses-miscarriages-idUSTRE80C1N720120113
5: Taken from Nolo, 02/10/2022, https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/getting-social-security-disability-benefits-after-age-60.html