Disability Insurance For Nurses: What You Need to Know
Nurses and nursing professionals dedicate their lives to helping and caring for others, but the occupation has significant disability risks.
In 2015, NPR published a multi-part series on the injury epidemic among hospital workers, giving us an inside look at the physical demands of the profession, the long-term effects, and the causes behind them.
Although some progress has been made in the effort to better protect nurses from these injuries, an anticipated nursing shortage is causing concern in the industry for the well-being of its workers.
This shortage is expected to reach 30 percent by 2020, placing further stress on already overworked population. Many experts anticipate the added strain could increase the proportion of injuries among nurses.
Here is a look at the occupational risks many nursing professionals face, why disability insurance a must-have, and what to consider when looking for the right policy.
Do nurses really need disability insurance?
Nursing careers have a high financial barrier to entry, meaning that professionals invest substantial time and money into developing their skills and building a career. While the cost of becoming a nurse depends on the specific path you take, your education and license fees can easily amount to six figures.
This industry also yields healthy incomes that are important to protect. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2016 median pay of registered nurses was $68,450, while advanced practice registered nurses earned an average salary of $107,460.
These factors – combined with the substantial risk of disability in the nursing industry – make it essential for nurses to have disability insurance coverage.
Common nursing injuries and occupational risks
Current estimates indicate that registered nurses (RNs), nursing assistants (NAs) and orderlies suffer approximately 35,000 injuries each year.
Common workplace ailments include musculoskeletal injuries, needlesticks and other sharps-related injuries, patient violence, and exposure to hazardous drugs, chemicals, radiation and infectious disease.
Here is a closer look at some of these injuries.
According to the American Nurses Association, nursing professionals are among the highest at risk for musculoskeletal disorders, which account for at least one in four long-term disabilities.
The musculoskeletal system is comprised of all of the bones and the muscles in the body that allow movement; because it includes so many different parts and areas of your body, a severe problem within the system can render you disabled.
Generally, these injuries occur from manually lifting, repositioning and transferring patients. It is estimated that in an average eight-hour shift, a healthcare worker will lift a cumulative weight of 1.8 tons. Many nurses work three 12-hour shifts per week, meaning they are lifting cumulative weight upwards of seven tons on a weekly basis.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration stated that in 2011, U.S. hospitals reported 16,680 cases in which workers missed work due to a musculoskeletal injury associated with patient interactions; nurses and nursing assistants each accounted for a substantial share of this total.
According to the ANA’s Health Risk Appraisal – which collected surveys and data in 2021 – 42 percent of surveyed nurses said their “responsibilities include lifting or repositioning heavy objects, and that doing so is a work environment safety risk.”
While efforts to change patient handling practices have increased in recent years, nursing professionals will continue to be at risk for disabling back, neck and shoulder injuries until all hospitals adopt safer patient lifting and handling tools and techniques, such as implementing lifting teams or investing in the hoists used by VA hospitals.
Nurses can also face another type of occupational hazard: physical violence from patients, according to U.S. News and World Report. In early 2017, nurses and other health care workers testified at a meeting for the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Administration (OSHA), detailing accounts of verbal abuse, physical assaults and injuries from patients they are trying to help.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data on nonfatal injuries from workplace violence for health care workers shows that in 2014, 154 injuries occurred for every 10,000 workers in public hospitals.
There was an even higher rate of 228 violence-related injuries per 10,000 workers in nursing homes. Overall, nearly 17,000 incidents were reported that year.
An incident of workplace violence does not always result in a disabling injury, but it can lead to mental and emotional distress. While one does not automatically think of mental illness when considering the causes of disability, it accounts for nearly 10 percent of long-term disabilities.
Learn more about other common injuries and occupational hazards in the nursing industry.
Disability insurance tips to consider
You can buy coverage when you are still in school
Nurses do not have to complete their education before applying for disability insurance coverage. Nursing students may consider buying disability insurance before graduation in order to secure lower rates, protect their income potential and ensure coverage is in place as soon as they enter the workforce.
Consider the policy’s definition of total disability
When evaluating your long-term disability insurance policy, pay close attention to how it defines a total disability.
For example, if policy language considers total disability as the inability to return to work in “any occupation,” then the insurer would only pay benefits if you are unable to perform any job – not just your own. This means that if you can no longer work as a labor and delivery nurse, but could possibly work as a healthcare administrator, you would not be eligible to receive disability benefits.
Your ideal policy should have an “own occupation clause” that considers you disabled if you cannot perform the material and substantial duties of your specific nursing occupation.
Be mindful that some policies may pay for own occupation benefits up to 24 months, 5 years or 10 years, after which the any occupation clause can kick in.
Seek minimal mental/nervous and substance abuse limitations
The mental/nervous and substance abuse limitations are among the most restrictive clauses in disability insurance policies. These are what insurers consider “soft” conditions, for which they do not like to pay extended benefits.
An ideal disability policy would have no mental/nervous/substance abuse limitations and no self-reported cap, but many insurers no longer offer such unrestricted coverage.
If these limitations cannot be eliminated, ensure the policy’s mental/nervous and substance abuse limitations are not less than 24 months.
Nurses should also carefully examine the self-reported condition limitation, which restricts benefits for “subjective” physical disabilities that are not supported by objective medical testing. The payment of benefits for these conditions – including chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and even headaches – may be limited to anywhere between 9 and 24 months.
If possible, a disability insurance policy with no self-reported or other limited condition clause is ideal.
Have questions about your disability policy or claim?
If you have questions about your long-term disability insurance policy, or are preparing to file a claim or appeal, contact our top-rated long-term disability attorneys for a free consultation or case review.
The legal team at DarrasLaw has handled disability claims at all stages for nursing professionals, from policy analysis and initial applications to appeals and lawsuits. There is no risk involved in contacting DarrasLaw; our extraordinary legal team is here to help.
By: Lauren Creiman