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Physical Therapist Disability Insurance: Coverage Needed and Where to Find It

Physical therapists have a deep understanding of the many injuries and illnesses that can sideline someone from their job. But what would happen if you suddenly became the patient? Could your family financially support itself long-term without your income as a physical therapist?

Disability insurance serves as income protection if you’re unable to work in the physical therapy field or in another role for an extended period of time. Yet, many physical therapists don’t have a disability policy of their own, making them (and their families) vulnerable to the unknown.

Read to learn about disability insurance for physical therapists, including why you need it and where to find affordable rates.

Why physical therapists need disability insurance

If you’re someone who thinks disability insurance won’t ever be needed, consider this… 

The Social Security Administration states that one in every four workers will experience a disability before retirement age.

The most common long-term disability insurance claims include:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Cancer
  • Injuries (e.g., fractures, sprains, and strains of muscles and ligaments)
  • Mental health issues
  • Circulatory conditions

Therefore, your ability to earn money as a physical therapist could change suddenly due to any number of unfortunate events.

In which case, disability insurance would step in and provide a monthly benefit based on a percentage of your physical therapist income.

For physical therapists with families, disability insurance serves as a safety net for your spouse and children.

The physical nature of the job puts physical therapists at greater risk

Physical therapists work in a large variety of settings, including hospitals, outpatient physical therapy clinics, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, school districts, sports organizations, corporations, and more. Depending on where you work, you’re likely treating patients with a wide spectrum of abilities and injuries.

Unlike other medical professions, you have a very physical job that puts you at higher risk of injury. Besides being on your feet all day, you’re also responsible for helping to lift, move, stretch and manipulate your patients’ bodies.

Although you're helping to improve your patient’s injuries and overall well-being, you’re also putting more wear and tear on your own body — especially if you’re working in a high-volume clinic. Over time, you can develop chronic conditions (e.g., back pain and arthritis) that can eventually hinder your abilities as a physical therapist.

This is why disability insurance is so valuable to physical therapists.

Your body is an essential tool of your trade, and therefore, your livelihood depends on being able to perform. If you can‘t manage the high physical demand of the job, disability insurance will protect your PT income.

Disability coverage: What do physical therapists currently have?

To answer this question, we sent out our 2022 Student Loan Planner Insurance Survey. More than 1,500 clients and readers provided information related to their existing disability coverage.

A total of 57 physical therapists chimed in, giving us great insight into the PT community. Here’s what we learned.

Physical therapists underestimate the need for disability insurance

Our survey found that only 11% of physical therapists have their own disability insurance policy, despite 56% of respondents believing they need disability coverage.

This was a common theme among many professions, in which there was a huge gap between what people thought they needed versus what they actually purchased.

The fact that only about one-tenth of PTs have their own disability policy becomes even more concerning when you consider that more than half of our surveyed PTs don’t receive any type of disability coverage through their workplace.

This is likely due to many physical therapists earning five-figure incomes and not having enough in their budgets to purchase their own disability insurance policy. For physical therapists earning six figures who earn far more than their partners or spouses, disability insurance is a must to make room for in your budget.

Breadwinner physical therapists don’t understand the importance of disability coverage for their families

More than half of our surveyed PTs are the primary income earner for their household. Yet, only 48% of those breadwinners believe they need disability coverage.

This data highlights how undervalued disability insurance can often be, considering about half of physical therapists with loved ones relying on their income don’t see the importance of having this type of protection.

If your family depends on you as their primary source of income, then disability insurance should be a key piece of your financial plan.

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Disability insurance for physical therapists: How much is needed and how much does it cost?

We recommend buying the maximum disability benefit allowed, which is typically around 60% of your physical therapist income. However, this amount might change if you already have existing disability coverage through your employer or another policy.

If you can’t afford the maximum benefit (or if you have a spouse or partner that can help shoulder the financial load), at minimum, carry enough coverage to provide for your family’s basic living expenses and existing debts.

Once you’re financially independent, you can cancel your disability coverage without worrying about how your family might be impacted if you’re suddenly unable to work.

Disability premiums for physical therapists

Surveyed physical therapists reported paying an average $37 per month for their existing disability coverage, with premiums ranging from $9 to $71 or more. However, most of our surveyed PTs don’t have their own disability policy, so these reported premiums are much lower than what you should expect to pay.

To give you a better understanding of how much disability insurance costs, let’s explore how much disability coverage could cost for a 30-year-old physical therapist in great health.

Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics average PT salary of $91,680, we’ve determined the ideal disability benefit is $4,700 per month for the average physical therapist.

We ran cost estimates for various disability insurance companies and found this maximum benefit could cost:

  • $123 to $167 per month for a 30-year-old male PT.
  • $204 to $276 per month for a 30-year-old female PT.

Female physical therapists can generally expect to pay more for disability coverage because women have a higher risk of disability.

However, a unisex discount is offered by some insurance companies, which helps lower premiums to a gender-neutral rate. Alternatively, some states (e.g. Massachusetts) require unisex pricing for personal disability premiums.

Related: Graded vs. Level Premium Disability Insurance: A Breakdown of Costs

Disability policy decisions that impact your premiums

Our cost estimates above include recommended policy decisions, such as choosing a 90-day waiting period. They also include the most common policy riders, like own occupation coverage, residual disability coverage, and a non-cancelable policy. Each of these options can increase or lower your monthly premiums.

Because physical therapist salaries don’t tend to fluctuate throughout your career, there might be opportunities to save money by purchasing fewer add-ons. For example, you might choose to opt out of inflation protection or a future purchase option.

However, these decisions require more than just looking at your monthly premium costs.

So, it’s best to speak with an expert independent insurance agent. Our SLP Insurance partner agents can provide you with unbiased information and answer any disability insurance questions you have.

What disability coverage do physical therapists get through their employer?

Our survey found that 44% of physical therapists have disability coverage through their employer. But what does an employer-provided disability policy look like?

Employer group plans often have a stricter definition of disability and limited benefits. Both of which can result in being unknowingly underinsured if you ever need to file a disability claim.

For example, physical therapists with Baylor Scott & White Outpatient Rehabilitation receive long-term disability benefits that pay 50% of their salary (with a $15,000 monthly maximum). However, benefits don’t begin until the 181st day of your disability, which leaves a significant six-month financial gap if you don’t have a solid emergency fund to tap into.

This is an example of a more generous employer-provided benefit. But even a 50% benefit can still fall short of what you actually need.

Let’s say you make $100,000 annually and have LTD coverage that pays 50% of your income. Your monthly benefit would be about $4,167. However, if you had a supplemental disability policy that boosted you to cover up to 60% of your income, you’d receive a total of $5,000 per month in disability payments. That’s an additional $800 a month that your family can use to pay bills and live off of.

Remember, many physical therapists are self-employed or don’t have LTD benefits through their employer. For those that do, your employer-provided disability policy isn’t portable. Therefore, you’ll lose coverage if you leave your current workplace for a better opportunity. 

An individual disability insurance policy will follow you throughout your career, including if you decide to exit the physical therapy field altogether.

Most physical therapists with an employer-provided disability insurance policy as generous as Baylor Scott & White would not choose to purchase their own policy. However, that kind of coverage unfortunately is the exception among employers, not the rule.

Disability insurance options for physical therapists

Considering a lot of employers don’t offer long-term disability benefits, many physical therapists have no coverage at all. Those that do, likely have very limited benefits through their employer and are at the mercy of the policy when the time comes for what will or won’t be covered.

A supplemental disability policy of your own can provide you with better income protection. It’ll also follow you from job to job without forcing you to find more expensive coverage when you’re older.

Large professional associations often partner with insurance companies to offer disability coverage at a discounted rate for their members.

For instance, American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) members have access to a disability insurance partnership with Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) that includes a 30% premium credit (which isn’t guaranteed). These group disability insurance policies are underwritten by New York Life and provide a monthly benefit of up to $10,000.

However, association group policies aren’t always cheaper than what you can find on your own and they come with their own surprises. For example, group disability premiums can change as you enter a new age bracket or as rates are adjusted for an entire group. So, it’s best to compare all of your options by shopping around for the best coverage and rate.

In most cases, you can find a better deal tailored to your needs by working with an independent agent who searches the “Big 6” disability insurance companies.

Our experienced SLP Insurance partner agents prioritize getting you the biggest discount. This includes sending you to another agent if they’re aware of an option that will provide you with better coverage or a lower rate.

To start the free disability insurance quote process, complete the form at the bottom. You’ll receive a one-on-one assessment of your disability insurance needs. This assessment will at minimum provide you with a better understanding of which riders you might benefit from and break down complicated policy language, so you know exactly what disability coverage you’re purchasing.

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