Locum, short for the Latin phrase locum tenens (lit. “place-holder,” akin to lieutenant), is a person who temporarily fulfills the duties of another. For example, a Locum doctor is a doctor who works in the place of the regular doctor when that doctor is absent, or when a hospital/practice is short-staffed. These professionals are still governed by their respective regulatory bodies, despite the transient nature of their positions.
The abbreviated form “locum” is common in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom; unlike in Latin its plural is locums. In the United States, the full length “locum tenens” (plural: locum tenentes) is preferred, though for some particular roles, alternative expressions (e.g. “substitute teacher“) may be more commonly used.
Locum Tenens physicians and healthcare professionals have unique needs when it comes to insurance planning.
- Typically they are not considered full time employees and therefore do not receive many of the full time employee benefits. This includes health, group disability and life insurance.
- Some locum professionals tend to travel often and want to ensure their coverage will follow them wherever they go.
- While your income may be temporary, you may still be dependent on the pay check. If you couldn’t get by for more than 6 months without an income, you need disability insurance to protect your income.
As a locum physician or healthcare professional, what can you do to overcome these obstacles?
1. If you are considering becoming a locum professional and are currently employed, purchase your insurance before you leave. This will put you in the optimal situation showing a guaranteed income. Once you have your insurance, it is portable and will follow you wherever you go. As long as you pay the premiums, your benefits will stay in force.
2. Consider which states you are moving from and to. Each state has their own laws and premiums. Therefore, if you are moving from a state that has lower premiums, purchase the policy prior to your move. If you are moving from a state that has higher premiums and more restrictions, consider waiting until you move to purchase your insurance.
3. If you are a medical or dental resident, consider purchasing your policy while still in residency. As a resident, you do not need to prove income and are able to purchase benefits regardless of group benefits in force. Medical residents are eligible to purchase up to $5000/month benefit while in residency. If you are a graduating resident or fellow in your last 180 days, you may be able to purchase up to $6500 or $7500/month (depending on medical specialty and company). Also, if you are affiliated with a Set for Life discounted university policy, you may be able to lock in a discounted policy saving you substantially.
4. If you are in your first year out of residency, you may purchase up to $7500/month benefit without proof of income. As a locum physician without a guaranteed salary, this may be a helpful way to secure a disability policy.
Considering disability insurance? Consider the facts.
• Your most valuable asset is your ability to bring in an income. Your future income is your payoff for all of your years of training, hard work and accumulated debt.
• You are at higher risk to become disabled in some capacity than other professionals since your job is very physically demanding.
• Your student loans do not go away if you become disabled.
• You may be eligible for a group rate or discounts. Set for Life has discounts set up at numerous hospitals and teaching programs throughout the country. Please let us know your employer name to see if we already have a discount. If a discount is not already in place, we can assist you to take advantage of this opportunity.
The importance of protecting your income in your specialty.
As a medical professional, it is critical that you choose a definition of disability that covers you in your area of specialty. This means if you become too sick or injured to work in your medical or dental specialty, you can still work in another dental specialty or occupation and continue to receive benefits.
Group benefits vs. an individual policy
If you currently work for a large group or practice, you may be offered a group policy. Usually you cannot opt out of taking the policy. Group policies typically offer a limited monthly benefit (60 percent of your income to a maximum amount). Group policies can’t discriminate – they must offer coverage to everyone in the group. Consequently, they often lack the important provisions of a personal policy.
• Your group policy may require you to be totally disabled and not able to work in any capacity before you can receive any benefit.
• The benefit may be taxable income to you if the employer is paying the premiums.
• Your employer may cancel your policy at any time.
• Even if you have a group policy, it is still important to consider supplementing with an individual policy.
• Your individual policy is portable and you may take it with you if/when you leave your employer.
• The policy definitions on an individual policy are usually superior (own-occupation, inflation protection).
• If you are only partially disabled, your group policy may not pay you.
• Having an individual policy protects your insurability by purchasing increase options. If your health changes, you may still purchase more coverage in the future based only on financial underwriting. Furthermore, having an individual policy provides portability
If you are concerned about paying for your disability insurance while you are working in the locum world, there are several things we can do to reduce your premium as much as possible.
• Some companies allow a “graded” or increasing premium. This is initially less expensive and your premium will increase each year. If you wish to lock it in at a later time, you may do so on any policy anniversary.
• Look for discounts available. This may be through an association or available if 3 or more professionals working at the same employer apply. Contact Set for Life for more information.