Catastrophic Disability Benefit

You’ve realized your dream of becoming a doctor, so after graduating from medical school and beginning your residency, consider the financial implications of a catastrophic disability. If it happened, what would you do? The catastrophic disability benefit helps protect you and could be considered an essential rider to your disability insurance policy.

What is the Catastrophic Disability Benefit?

While enjoying a rewarding medical career, losing that livelihood is the last thing you want to consider. Unfortunately, most physicians are one traumatic illness or debilitating injury away from financial disaster. 

When you’re disabled, catastrophic disability benefits may provide an additional monthly benefit as long as you qualify as catastrophically disabled. 

Most policies will consider you catastrophically disabled when you cannot perform 2 of your 6 ADLs (activities of daily living), are cognitively impaired, or presumptively disabled. 

The activities of daily living include the following: 

  • Dressing - which means the ability to put on and take off clothing and any medically necessary braces or artificial limbs.
  • Eating/Feeding - which means the ability to feed yourself by mouth, feeding tube or intravenously.
  • Bathing - which means the ability to wash yourself in the tub, shower or by sponge bath, with or without adaptive devices.
  • Toileting - which means the ability to get to and from and on and off the toilet and to maintain a reasonable level of personal hygiene.
  • Transferring - which means the ability to move in and out of a chair, bed or wheelchair with or without assistive devices such as canes, walkers, crutches, grab bars or mechanical or motorized devices.
  • Continence - which means the ability to voluntarily control bowel and bladder function, or in the event of incontinence, the ability to maintain a reasonable level of personal hygiene (including caring for catheter or colostomy bag).

Cognitively impaired means you have suffered a severe deterioration or loss in your cognitive capacity that requires substantial supervision to protect you or others from threats to health or safety. For most policies, the impairment also needs to be supported by reliable clinical evidence and standardized tests that reliably measure your impairment in short-term or long-term memory, your orientation as to person, place and time, and deductive or abstract reasoning.

Presumptively disabled [or Irrecoverable Disabled] means, solely due to an injury or sickness, you have a total loss of use for any and every purpose or activity without any possibility of recovery of:

  • Power of speech; or
  • Hearing in both ears; or
  • Sight in both eyes; or
  • The use of both hands, both feet, or one hand and one foot.

If your disability is irrevocable, the benefit usually is payable for the full benefit period of the policy. Keep in mind that catastrophic disability insurance is a rider and not a stand-alone policy. It’s attached to disability policies as an add-on, providing additional benefits beyond what a standard policy normally pays.

Benefits of the Catastrophic Disability Benefit

Disability insurance covers a lot of possible life- or career-changing disabilities. However, the catastrophic disability rider adds several benefits. Such a rider: 

  • Covers more of your income, in addition to what your general policy covers. 
  • Offers fairly inexpensive premiums.
  • Pays for the daily care you might need. 

Is the Catastrophic Disability Benefit Worth It?

Yes, it can be. Nobody thinks a catastrophic disability can happen to them. But while the risk of such an event is relatively low, it does occur, and the financial results for a family can be devastating. 

If you’d rather be safe than sorry and have a general disability insurance policy, it alone doesn’t cover all you might need if you are catastrophically disabled. This coverage gap is especially evident if you’ve already reached the maximum amount of disability insurance you can purchase. A wider safety net can provide peace of mind.

Take time to examine your budget and the cost of this benefit. Discuss with your family and financial advisor about the worst-case scenarios. Then compare prices and decide if this protection is worth it for you.

Insurers That Offer the Catastrophic Disability Benefit 


Guardian offers both a severe disability benefit rider and an enhanced catastrophic disability benefit rider. The maximum monthly benefit within the Catastrophic Riders is $12,500.

    • Enhanced Catastrophic Disability Benefit Rider offers extra benefits from an injury or sickness that causes cognitive impairment, the inability to perform two or more Activities of Daily Living, or an irrecoverable disability. While receiving catastrophic benefits, the benefit will also adjust each year to help keep pace with inflation (3% compounded annually), up to two times the original catastrophic benefit amount.
  • Basic, or Severe, Disability Benefit Rider provides extra benefits only if you become irrevocably disabled or functionally impaired. Compared to the Enhanced Catastrophic Rider, there will be no inflation protection with the Severe option and will not cover disabilities resulting in a loss of activities of daily living.


Ameritas’ catastrophic disability rider limits the additional benefit to $10,000. To qualify for catastrophic disability benefits, you must be unable to perform two or more activities of daily living without stand-by assistance, or you require substantial supervision due to severe cognitive impairment.


The Standard limits the catastrophic disability benefits to $10,000. The catastrophic disability benefit rider will provide the additional monthly benefit if you’re unable to perform two or more activities of daily living, or have a severe cognitive impairment, or are presumptively disabled.  


Principal’s catastrophic disability benefit (CDB) rider is limited to a maximum of $8,000 additional monthly benefit. Catastrophic means you cannot perform two or more activities of daily living, you are cognitively impaired, or presumptively disabled. If you have the cost of living adjustment (COLA) rider attached to the policy, benefits within the catastrophic rider will increase as well.

Mass Mutual

MassMutual’s catastrophic disability benefit rider will provide coverage similar to the other insurers: inability to perform at least two activities of daily living, severe cognitive impairment, or presumptive disability. When combined with the policy’s total disability benefit and any other long term disability coverage, the rider can help cover up to 100% of pre-disability earned income.

Learn More From

For most new, or even seasoned, physicians a catastrophic disability benefit is an excellent add-on to general disability insurance. General policies will replace a portion of your salary should you find yourself unable to work for some time. Unfortunately, it won’t replace more of your salary or pay for any daily care you might need. Knowing what the catastrophic disability benefit is can help you and your family avoid financial disaster.

Talk to us to determine if a catastrophic disability benefit is right for you.