Dr. Kim Harms tells us about how she got into dentistry and the disability that changed the course of her career. She explains why healthcare professionals of all disciplines need to secure the right amount of disability insurance when they’re young.

Learn more about Dr. Harms on her website: https://www.drkimberlyharms.com/about/

Some Highlights From the Transcript:

  • Young physicians, dentists and other healthcare professionals need to understand that they could develop a disability tomorrow. Even if that disability doesn’t stop them from working today, it will be used as a preexisting condition that disability insurance carriers will exclude from any policy they issue to you in the future. (03:49)
  • Kim discusses the impact a good career advisor can have on a determined college student. (07:36)
  • Apparently, you can be a great dentist with seven fingers! (08:15)
  • Kim discusses not buying insurance early because it was expensive (08:40)
  • Disabilities can come suddenly and unexpectedly. (10:12)
  • Business overhead expense insurance is a great idea for small practices. (12:49)
  • Most young dentists understand that it’s important to get disability insurance early, but some feel invincible and balk at the associated cost. (23:41)
  • When Kim’s husband passed away, his life insurance policy made a huge impact on her life. (25:45)
  • Make sure your broker who understands the difference between pre-tax and post-tax benefits. (29:49)
  • Some group plans will pay disability benefits past normal retirement age. (37:14)
  • Healthcare professionals would rather work than collect insurance. (41:16)
  • Make sure you have a contract expert look at your disability policy. If you don’t, you could end up with something that doesn’t suit your needs. (43:08)

Dr. Kimberly Harms (00:00):

When my kids were young, I had all the insurance, and he had this little plan. I had all the insurance so that if something happened to me, my family would’ve been taken care of, because that is really important. It’s one thing for me, I can make it as an older person, the insurance was absolutely wonderfully helpful. But when you have small children, you have a family, and when somebody passes away that’s the income-earner, it can have devastating effects.

James Crook (00:28):

You are listening to The Broker Advisor podcast, where we explore the surprisingly fascinating world of the healthcare professional disability insurance market. Our goal is to find insights to help brokers succeed in this lucrative and rewarding market. We thank everyone who listened to season one, but now, it’s time for season two, where we hear the stories of healthcare professionals who developed a disability during their careers, and how disability insurance played a part in those difficult situations.

James Crook (01:02):

Today, our guest is Dr. Kimberly Harms. She spent 30 years in clinical dentistry. She was the first woman president of the Minnesota Dental Association, and she served on the American Dental Association’s council on government affairs. Dr. Harms has amassed many more impressive items I could list here, but for our purposes, you need to know that she was a dentist who became disabled. For more details on Kim’s impressive career and story, see the link to her website in the transcript of this episode. Now, let’s jump right in.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (01:36):

Is this James?

James Crook (01:39):

Yes. Hi. I really, really appreciate you taking time to speak with me today. It’s a big help. I heard the webinar you did with Kurt a while back. I listened to that. What we’re trying to do with this podcast is really about… We’re just trying to explore the disability insurance market for healthcare professionals. That’s all that MGIS does. We created this little, I don’t know exactly what you’d call it, but this resource called The Broker Advisor. And one of the things we do for that is this podcast. And the first season we did, we interviewed a bunch of brokers who had really successful careers in the market, and with this season, what I’m hoping to do is talk with healthcare professionals who’ve had experiences like you have. I read through your whole story on your website preparing for this, too, and it’s quite a story. You’ve been through a lot. Again, really happy to have you working with us on this.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (03:07):

It’s a privilege to be here to help.

James Crook (03:11):

Essentially, I’ve got some… Really, I just want this to be a casual conversation. I have some questions to ask, but really, I think it might be good for you to explain your background a little bit and relating it to your disability a little bit.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (03:38):

Which one [laughs]?

James Crook (03:40):

The one that-

Dr. Kimberly Harms (03:42):

The one that took me out [laughs]?

James Crook (03:47):

Yeah. That one. Yeah. You know what I’m talking about.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (03:49):

I know, I know. No, I’m just giving you crap [laughs]. One thing that I really learned is I actually do have lower back issues that might’ve taken me out later, and I had an exclusion because I didn’t get insurance before those developed. That’s really important for people to understand, that tomorrow they could develop an issue that would be excluded from their insurance, and then if that issue was the cause of their disability, they wouldn’t be covered. That’s one of the reasons it’s important for them to get insurance early.

James Crook (04:21):

Yeah. No, absolutely.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (04:22):

I’ll talk about that, too. Yeah.

James Crook (04:27):

But anyway, if you’re willing to, would you just tell us a little bit about your background? I’ll ask you some questions, but really, just want to hear your story.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (04:39):

Okay. Well, first of all, I think that I certainly became acquainted with what would be called… Oh, I’m sorry [background noise]. It’s my alarm that it’s four o’clock and I’m supposed to be here! The bells are ringing when I start to talk. Actually, let me just turn off this phone. How does that sound? So it doesn’t go off.

James Crook (04:59):

Oh no, you’re fine.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (05:02):

Here we go. It was turned off. Just not the alarm.

James Crook (05:05):

You’re fine.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (05:08):

Well, first of all, I just want to tell you that I was born with only seven fingers, and so I was missing two. The idea of dentistry really never came into my head until I was in college, and then my first week or so of college, I met this really cute guy named Jim Harms, and he wanted to go to dental school. And of course, this was 1974. And in 1974, first of all, there were very few women dentists. One, 2%, maybe at the most. So I never really thought about dentistry, and my big goal, of course, was that I needed to get Jim to marry me. And so I decided that maybe I could go to dental school, too. But I had this little problem with just the seven fingers.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (05:52):

So after my first semester, I went to my advisor, and my grades were good, so that was fine. But I said, “You know I really want to go to dental school, but I only have seven fingers. What do you think?” And that advisor leaned back and looked at me and said, “They’re not going to take you in dental school with seven fingers. What are you thinking? You can’t do that.” And I believed him for that moment, and I thought, “Darn. You know, I’ll have to find another way to get Jim to marry me, because obviously, the dental part is not going to happen.”

Dr. Kimberly Harms (06:21):

And as I got up and left, this is 1974, I got up and left, I opened the door, and he leaned back. And you could smoke in those days. He leaned back with a cigar in his mouth, put his feet up on the desk, he said, “Well, maybe if you were a man, they would let you in.” And it was like, “Whoa. What the heck are you saying?” You don’t tell an 18-year-old that they can’t do something. And I realized at that moment that he didn’t really care about me. He didn’t know if I could go or not, and it was his own ego talking. And so instead of changing careers, I changed advisors.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (06:56):

My next advisor was Dr. Potter, and oh my gosh, Dr. Potter was terrifying. I had her for genetics. She looked Marge Simpson’s sister. Her hair was all scraggly. She had her little glasses down on her nose. She had a cigarette while she was lecturing. Again, this was the ’70s. While she was lecturing, she had a cigarette dangling from her mouth that she kept there while she was talking. It was like it was Velcroed to her mouth. She was terrifying, and she would say to all of us, “Look to your left, look to your right. In a couple weeks, one of you will be gone.” And of course, she was right. They dropped out. So she was a terrifying choice. And I was horrified that that was my next advisor, but I was so mad at that first advisor that I went to the second one really quickly.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (07:36):

And I knocked on Dr. Potter’s door, and she opened it, and she was as wonderful as she could possibly be. I was shocked. And I ask her, “I’d like to go to dental school, but I only have seven fingers. What do you think?” And she said, another thing very important in my life, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.” So she made an appointment with the dean of restorative dentistry at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, and I went up there, and he looked at my hand and he said, “Well, can you hold a mirror?” And I said, “Yeah, I can hold a mirror.” And he goes, “Oh. Well you can go to dental school, because one hand holds the mirror, the other hand goes to dental school.”

James Crook (08:15):

Is that really true? You just need one hand?

Dr. Kimberly Harms (08:20):

One hand, but you have to have a mirror. One hand has to hold the mirror. You need a way to hold the mirror on one side. I practiced for 30 years, and I never had a problem with any procedures, because one hand holds the mirror, and the other hand went to dental school.

James Crook (08:33):

That’s interesting.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (08:35):

Yeah. First of all, I married Jim, so my plan worked, which was fabulous.

James Crook (08:39):

Right. Good plan.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (08:40):

And I went to dental school with him. We ended up graduating at the same time. I started out with something that was considered a disability, which really truly wasn’t in my case. I grew up with that. Now, when I got into practice, like many people going into practice, I didn’t buy insurance right away, because it was kind of expensive, I thought, so I just didn’t. There were other things that I could buy. Insurance wasn’t on the list.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (09:13):

About maybe five or six years into practice, I actually did purchase a disability insurance. However, by that time, it was my mid-20s, I had already developed a lower back issue. I had had some back pain and was treated for that. So I was horrified to know that, even though I could buy insurance, which I did, I bought disability insurance, that any problem with my lower back was excluded. That just really shows you how important it is for people when they’re purchasing insurance to purchase it early.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (09:48):

And I know now there’re a lot more women in dentistry now. And I started my lower back issues, by the way, when I was pregnant with my first child. A lot of us are coming out of dental school, we’re nice and healthy, we go through a pregnancy, things develop in pregnancies, as they do, and then that’s a preexisting condition when we apply for insurance. So it’s really, really important to apply for insurance as soon as possible. I think that’s just an important message.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (10:12):

Now, as I practiced through my years, I had some issues, but none of them very serious, until after about 30 years of practice. I was noticing some pain in my neck and my whole back, and my hands started feeling a little bit funny. I went to the Mayo Clinic, you know I knew I had some arthritis, which we do. We just have some arthritis. So I went to the Mayo Clinic to see what I could do, and we found that I had what’s called a radiculopathy, which is part of my nerves are damaged on my neck, the ones that go to my drilling fingers, of all places. If they went to my toes, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but they went to my drilling fingers. And therefore, I was told by my doctor that I had to change professions that day. So I worked full-time one day thinking I could go back, and I never practiced again.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (11:02):

Luckily, I didn’t have enough, I was absolutely underinsured, but I had something that really has come in very handy, and it has allowed me to keep up a more relaxed lifestyle without having to worry about financial income. My message really is to buy that insurance as early as you can before something happens to you.

James Crook (11:26):

Yeah. No, that’s a great point. The only way they can profitably offer the disability insurance, at least on the individual basis, is by eliminating… If you’ve got some preexisting condition and they cover it, they’re not going to make any money. That’s just the economics of the thing, which is why you want to get individual coverage when you’re really young. Did you guys ever explore getting any group disability?

Dr. Kimberly Harms (12:03):

Yes. For the first plan, I actually had a couple of plans. Once again, I would’ve bought more. I bought just a little bit on the plans. But we did get a disability plan for our office. I practiced with my husband, Jim, and he actually had diabetes and had some more serious issues than I did. His insurance, I think all of his insurance, he really couldn’t buy individual insurance, because he had too many risk factors.

James Crook (12:33):

Right, right.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (12:35):

So his insurance, all of his insurance, was through the group plan. And I did have some group plans, so I actually had two plans.

James Crook (12:41):

Gotcha. That’s good. But even that, you feel like you should’ve gotten more.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (12:49):

Absolutely. It really didn’t replace… Now, what I did also do, I will tell you that one really good move I made was we bought office overhead insurance. So for the two years, because when you have a certain lifestyle and you’re  doing very well. We had a certain lifestyle. And then all of a sudden, bang, I can’t contribute to that, and the disability was far from covering it. But with the office overhead insurance, it covered my expenses at the office. That gave Jim enough, the office enough income, that both of my daughters got married within a year of each other, and we were able to have the weddings and not feel like, “Okay, I have to go into debt.” I was able to fund two weddings, it lasted for two years, and then I had to just adjust my lifestyle. Which actually was not too hard for me. We don’t make very good real estate decisions, actually, but we buy things. We don’t go into debt very much. I made some good decisions so I could live without working if I don’t want to right now, which is good.

James Crook (14:00):

Yeah, that is good. And that overhead expense insurance, that’s a really important one, because even if you have the disability insurance policy, that covers basically your income, but if you own a practice, what’s going to happen with the business overhead expenses? For any practice-owning healthcare professionals, I think that’s a must-have.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (14:34):

Many dentists are solo practitioners. Especially if you’re by yourself. Now, for me, I stopped practicing, so all of my income from the time I was there was gone. But the overhead, we didn’t fire any staff members or anything when I left, so the overhead was still there. My husband was still practicing, fortunately, and so the way it helped him is that he had some extra money to cover that overhead that I was no longer contributing towards. The people who are especially at risk are those who are solo practitioners or in small practices.

James Crook (15:06):

Gotcha. Yeah, no, and that’s exactly right. If you’re working for a giant group, it’s probably not very important. On the micro level, if you own a practice, a small practice, then yeah. Something interesting that you said in your webinar. And by the way, do you live in Minnesota?

Dr. Kimberly Harms (15:28):

Yes, I live in Bloomington.

James Crook (15:29):

Okay. My in-laws live in Golden Valley.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (15:35):

Oh, sure. Oh.

James Crook (15:35):

Yeah, that’s where my wife is from.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (15:36):

I’m from Maryland originally, but my husband’s family was here. I love it. I love it in Minnesota. I don’t mind the cold.

James Crook (15:45):

Yeah. We lived there for a little bit, and I do mind the cold.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (15:51):

Most people do.

James Crook (15:53):

Yeah. No, it’s pretty bitter. But anyway, your window made me think of that, because there’s snow on the ground there. There’s not-

Dr. Kimberly Harms (16:03):

Just a little bit today.

James Crook (16:04):

… in Utah.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (16:06):

Of course, I’m flying tomorrow, so there’s a big snowstorm coming.

James Crook (16:08):

Oh, are you? Oh, yeah. Okay. Of course.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (16:11):

That’s how it always works.

James Crook (16:12):

Yeah. But anyway, in that webinar that I saw you do, you talked about some of the things that dentists were worried about at the time you graduated. I thought it was really interesting that… It’s interesting because some of those things we’re talking about are scary threats, and the things we have today are scary threats. But for some reason, we’re not as worried about the things that are more likely to happen. I was just wondering if you touched on some of things and what your thoughts are on that.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (16:53):

Sure. I graduated in 1981. I grew up as a baby boomer hiding under my desk once a month in a nuclear bomb drill that we all went through. And of course, I grew up 10 miles outside of Washington, D.C., and certainly knew that if a bomb blast was going to go off in Washington, hiding under the desk was not going to do me much good. We lived with that fear and was reminded of that every month at school.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (17:21):

And my husband, Jim, was in the National Guard. He was in the Army before we got married, and then he was in the National Guard. Most people don’t realize it, but we were very close to another third world war back around 1980 when the Soviet Union was starting to get some pushback from Poland, and that whole breakup was just starting to… You were just starting to see the fractures. They didn’t really break apart until about 1990. You were starting to see those fractures in the Soviet Union. My husband was in the National Guard, and he was told to get all of his effects ready, and that they had a plan that they were going to be dropped behind enemy lines… Of course, we didn’t have an enemy at that time… behind enemy lines, and he might not come back. He certainly had that fear at that time. Luckily, that didn’t happen.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (18:13):

But we graduated. We both graduated together. We got our little hoods on together up on stage, and we were walking off the stage. And as we walked down the stage, he turned to me and he said, “I’ve just worked so hard to get to this point in my life, and I just feel that there’s going to be a nuclear attack, and I’m just going to die tomorrow, and it’ll all be for nothing.” Here we are on this great day, and he’s thinking that we’re going to get killed by a nuclear blast. So we had things that we worried about.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (18:39):

Also, when I was growing up, in 7th grade, we had the riots on the college campuses. This was during the Vietnam War. I grew up also looking out the window of my school and limiting my play area now, because the field was taken over by National Guard troops who had rifles in their hands and they were going, “Back, back, back,” and practicing their drills to take care of the riots on the college campuses.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (19:07):

We’ve been through this before, and I think that’s what people need to know. We’ve been through difficult times before. Whether we have an invasion of the killer virus, the coronavirus is affecting us all negatively, we have civil unrest, we know political unrest, but we’re going to be okay. I think the adults in the room are going to stand up, and we are going to move out of this. There’s going to be some peacemaking going on. And many, many times, when you have political unrest especially, you have to have an explosion, which of course, we’ve had. And then things get sorted out after that.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (19:42):

I want the younger people, especially who have not lived through violence or feeling that they’re going to get blown up at any minute before, to know that these are not the worst of times. We’re going to get through them, and they just have to take it a day at a time, take hope, and prevail. Many of them are also worried because, of course, their expectations for this year have not turned out the way they expected. They’re looking at the bottom line, and how are they going to cope, but we’ve got programs in place, and I just want to let them know that we’re going to be okay. Again, we’ve been through this before. Through similar things before, not this particular thing.

James Crook (20:22):

Yeah. Well, your optimism is appreciated.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (20:26):

Sure. It’s scary out there. I limit my news to searching for the topic online. I don’t let any news program tell me what’s going on, because I become a real cynic, and I don’t trust anybody anymore. But I’ll just go down. I don’t hear it all the time. I hear it selectively, and I think people need to do that. We want to be informed, we want to know what’s going on. But sometimes the 24-hour blasting of negativity is not doing us any good.

James Crook (20:55):

You mean Twitter?

Dr. Kimberly Harms (20:57):

Yeah. Really. I think sometimes, for your own good…because it’s scaring people. It’s terrifying people. Here’s the thing. I have two daughters, I have six beautiful grandchildren, and I tell my daughters, “Please limit yourself, find out what’s going on, but don’t listen to it all day, because you have all those beautiful children that you need to be attentive to right now. You don’t want to miss a minute with them, worrying about things that aren’t going to happen.” I’m talking as someone that thought I was going to get blown up every minute. Look at all that time and effort, I probably took five years off my life worrying about that stuff. Get back to what’s important. Yes, be focused, do what you can. If you can’t do anything about it, limit your exposure to it. Just the facts, just tell me the facts. And I think that really is helpful.

James Crook (21:49):

Yeah. I agree. It’s easy to get weighed down in all that stuff. Yeah. Like you said, with your grandchildren, you can become dis-attached from what’s happening in the world. Small things like that, because I know. I have a two-year-old, and I know that sometimes I get sucked into something and not dancing with her, which she wants to do 24/7. I think once you focus on those things, you can focus on the things, too, that are really more pertinent. I definitely agree with you.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (22:43):

I think the difference you can make. Focus on what can you do to make a difference in whatever it is you’re working for. And those things that you can’t make a difference at and the people that… you’re not going to change opinions on people. It’s very unlikely at this point that a lot of opinions will change, but do your best. Look at what you can change, and the things that you can’t change you have to let go of, because it’s going to just draw you in.

James Crook (23:09):

Yeah. No, it’s true. Very true. Something else from your webinar that made me think: Do you ever encounter dentists who you speak to who aren’t really convinced that they need protection like disability insurance and business overhead expense stuff? Or do you feel like everyone gets it?

Dr. Kimberly Harms (23:41):

I think almost everybody gets it. There’s a few out there that feel like, “Well, I’m young and healthy. It’s not going to happen to me.” The biggest deterrent, of course, is there’s a cost attached to it.

James Crook (23:54):

Right, right. Exactly.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (23:56):

If you’re starting out, it’s a difficult cost to bear. But to me, it’s just like you got to pay rent. I really believe that. And of course, I’ve grown to know why that’s important.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (24:11):

I’ll give you another example of insurance. It was me and my husband when we were buying our practice, our very first practice, back in 1986. They asked for life insurance on the practice. Somebody had to have life insurance that would pay off the seller if one of us passed away. Now, interestingly enough, they didn’t ask for anything on me, which is a sign of the times. And luckily, this was good for me. Luckily, they asked for my husband to cover the cost of the practice. Unfortunately, back in 1986, practices were not that expensive, so it wasn’t a really big plan. But it was a plan that was helpful, and he got that plan.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (24:50):

Now, a few years later, he developed diabetes, and we could no longer purchase an individual life insurance plan on him. He was too costly to insure. Because he bought that before he got sick, and he passed away a few months ago, about five months ago he passed away.

James Crook (25:09):

I’m sorry about that.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (25:11):

Thank you. Yeah, it was hard. It was hard, and it’s hard when someone dies. I think that you have to deal with all the issues that occur when you lose a spouse or you lose any one of your loved ones. Those emotional issues are very difficult to deal with. When you add on financial worries, it just makes it harder. And it was just enough, it certainly wasn’t a plan that’s going to last my rest of my life. I hope, unless I go tomorrow.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (25:45):

And it’s certainly not something that’s going to… As we should’ve bought, we should’ve bought more. But it really just takes the edge off. It was just enough for me, it was just the right amount to just take the edge off so that I feel pretty secure in my retirement. And I do work a little bit, so I do add a little bit of income, but I feel pretty secure in these uncertain times, because he had to buy that plan. Because if he had chosen not to buy that plan at that time, we couldn’t really choose, we couldn’t buy the practice. If he had not bought the plan, it would’ve made a significant difference in my life later on when he passed away.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (26:22):

But what we did in our life is we… My back injury, or the problem in my back was not life-threatening, so it was much cheaper to buy life insurance on me. When my kids were young, I had all the insurance and he had this little plan. I had all the insurance, so that if something happened to me, my family would’ve been taken care of, because that is really important. It’s one thing for me, I can make it. As an older person, the insurance was absolutely wonderfully helpful, but when you have small children, you have a family, and somebody passes away that’s the income-earner, it can have devastating effects on your family, on your children, on your spouse. You might lose the house, very likely, lose the things that you’re used to. It’s extremely important to make sure you have enough insurance, and get it when you’re young.

James Crook (27:14):

Absolutely. Yeah. I think those are really good points. Excellent. There’s life insurance and disability insurance. Including advice on insurance, but what do dentists who are starting today, what do they need to know, what do they need to consider? How do they balance the need to get started, but also hedge against unfortunate things happening?

Dr. Kimberly Harms (27:59):

It’s very difficult now. The good news is, I hope that if they’re looking for an employment opportunity, that their employer offers some insurance. Look for that when you’re looking for a job. If you’re owning your own practice, what all the statistics tell us is that the best way to have enough to pay off your student debt and buy insurance and everything else is to own your own practice. It by far provides the best long-term income. But it’s a little scary. It’s a little scary for people to own a practice than to buy a practice. I think that I would like for them to consider insurance, and maybe they’re not going to buy enough right away, but they need to buy a base amount of insurance as just part of doing business.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (28:49):

And also, the other important thing that helped me tremendously was that we took the insurance, the insurance payment was made in after-tax dollars. We didn’t take the individual insurance as a tax deduction, we took it in after-tax dollars. Therefore, when the insurance came back, we had a low plan to begin with. When we did get the insurance, at least the tax dollars were not taken off of that. If you’re going to buy a plan that’s at a lower level, or any level, I think it’s really best to do it in after-tax dollars, because then you get the benefit of the…

James Crook (29:31):

Yeah, that’s a great point.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (29:33):

… difference.

James Crook (29:36):

For group plans, you really need to consider what’s best. You really need to consider those things, and you need to have a broker who really knows about the importance of after-tax or pre-tax, because if you do it pre-tax and it wasn’t really thought about, you get your benefits and they’re taxable. That’s not a fun surprise.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (30:03):

No, it’s not.

James Crook (30:05):

I’m glad you brought that up. With your experience talking to… How many speaking engagements do you do? I’m curious.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (30:15):

Well, I just did one last night for Canada. I did one on Saturday.

James Crook (30:21):

You’re busy.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (30:22):

I’m busy. The Saturday one was actually in person, so that was my first one in person. I had them all lined up.

James Crook (30:29):

Oh. And that was in Phoenix?

Dr. Kimberly Harms (30:30):

It was in Phoenix, yeah. It was in Phoenix. It was fabulous.

James Crook (30:32):

Nice and warm.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (30:33):

It was warm, and we socially distanced, and we had our masks on. Not when we were speaking, because we were up on the stage, but we had our masks on. It’s interesting, because I started this a couple of years ago. I started speaking more because my daughter became a dental attorney, and she wanted my help to help her with her business, and this is what I’ve been doing. I’ve served in a lot of positions over the years, and so I started this just a couple years ago, and I had everything laid out. I had lots of engagements all lined up in February, and then of course, everything canceled. It was just gone.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (31:08):

I did a lot of webinars, which has been fun. Yeah, I’ve done a lot of webinars. But I think people are starting to get a little tired of sitting home, watching a webinar more than actually going and seeing somebody in person. It’s a lot more fun for me, because I can see the reaction. I did a three-hour webinar last night on some pretty emotional issues, and I didn’t know if they were yawning or if they turned it off. I don’t know what they were thinking. I really do like the in-person ones a lot better.

James Crook (31:40):

Yeah. Absolutely. Do you ever do question and answer?

Dr. Kimberly Harms (31:45):

Oh, yeah.

James Crook (31:49):

What kind of questions do you get asked? What are they asking you?

Dr. Kimberly Harms (31:51):

My lectures typically are on conflict management and “emotional emergencies in the dental office,” I call them. Anything that deals with emotion. We dentists like to focus on the dentistry, and we think that all the emotional issues are going to just take care of themselves, and we like to avoid them or pretend they’re not happening. And of course, when you do that, they get worse. Many of the questions are individual issues that occur in a dental office.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (32:19):

One of the problems with COVID right now, and one of the areas I get a lot of questions about, is that the dental community and the dental hygiene community, when they were trying to look at what would be reasonable to do to protect patients and team members against COVID, they don’t always come up with the same things. The hygienists tend to want a more stringent code, and the dentists will tend to go to the CDC guidelines and put in a lot of new stuff. One of the big questions that I get a lot is, “How do you manage that differential?” You have hygienists saying, “I don’t want to go into work, because I’m afraid I’m going to get sick, and here’s what my association says you should be doing.” And the dentist is like, “We’re doing everything we can, and here’s what the Centers for Disease Control are saying.”

Dr. Kimberly Harms (33:11):

And the great news is that after seven or eight months of dentists working again, many of them are almost as busy as they were before, maybe a little less, because of the additional time. But they’re busy, and they’re working, and there’s been no evidence that any spread of COVID has occurred in a dental office. That’s fabulous. But still, there’s that fear on one side. That’s a big conflict that we have right now, but I think it’s been worked out in most offices. But when the team members were coming back to work, many of them were afraid to do so.

James Crook (33:49):

Gotcha. That’s interesting. I went to the dentist in October, and they had me gargle with… I think it was hydrogen peroxide.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (33:57):


James Crook (33:58):

Yeah. Which was interesting [laughs]. I spit it out, but then it just kept foaming. It was funny. It was an interesting experience. But yeah, I felt safe after that.

James Crook (34:16):

Let me ask you this, too. Because our audience is largely brokers, when you were working to get your insurance solutions, did you work through a broker? And if you did, what could they have done better? Do you feel like they emphasized the importance of it enough? I’m just curious on your reaction to that.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (34:49):

Yes. I did work through a broker who happened to be my hygienist’s husband. This is how I’ve had brokers in small town in Minnesota. First of all, I was really happy that he gave me really good advice on my disability plan. He said I should be buying more, which I didn’t follow at the time. Wish I had followed that part of the advice. But he did give me good advice, and I feel like I got a good plan, and I feel like it was one that allowed me some flexibility so that if I wasn’t actually practicing clinical dentistry, if I was able to do some work in some areas, I could still do that, and it wouldn’t affect my disability paycheck up to a certain amount. I think that was really important, because that’s something that we have to think about. Especially if we underinsure ourselves and maybe we need to add a little extra income. That’s an important part of the plan.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (35:48):

And when I received the plan, they all… Fortunately, I had a slam-dunk diagnosis, which was good. It was recorded on medical equipment and all that sort of thing. I think that’s the biggest issue I think people have. Especially with back pain. It’s so hard to document when you have back pain. It’s really, really hard to document. I think a lot of my colleagues that really are suffering out there with some issues are unable to access their insurance because it’s not something they can document as easily. I was fortunate that mine was just… There was no question about it.

James Crook (36:24):

Yeah, I think they call that self-reported conditions. That’s an important piece to look for in a policy. If you say you’re in pain, but it’s tricky to diagnose, is it going to cover you? That’s an interesting point.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (36:44):

Dentists, we use our necks quite a bit, which was my problem. I wasn’t ergonomically as watchful as I should’ve been. Our necks are at risk, our backs are at risk. And I have some other issues. The reason I was missing my fingers is my mother took thalidomide, so I’ve got some other issues in my spine. They’re much smaller, but are affecting me now. They didn’t affect me when I was young, but now that I’m older, I’m starting to be affected by those.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (37:14):

I think that that’s something that dentists need to learn a little bit more about. And we are talking a lot more about ergonomics to prevent disability. I so wish…it would’ve been so much nicer if I could practice. I’m 64 this year, so I turn 65 in 10 months, and that’s when my benefits stop. Dentists now are practicing into their 70s. It’s also important to know to do whatever you can to keep your ability, because your disability’s only going to cover you for a certain point. I just want them to avoid having to collect. It’s much better to be able to work, and work until the time you want to retire, rather than being forced to retire at a certain age. That’s another issue that we need to really look at preventive measures. And I think that’s one thing insurance companies can do, is focus on providing education in the preventive measures, ergonomics, and things like that to help.

James Crook (38:17):

Yeah. That would be a good investment for them. No, and I think that’s interesting too. There are some plans that will pay benefits longer than retirement age, especially for a group plan. Obviously, you want as much coverage for as long as you can get it, but I know there’re a lot of group plans that don’t. Once you hit 65, normal retirement age or whatever, they cut the benefits off. But there are some plans that will extend the benefits longer. That’s an interesting point to bring up, too.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (39:03):

Wish I had bought one of those [laughs]. Dang.

James Crook (39:09):

Yeah. Yeah, I know. More money for longer.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (39:11):

Right. Longer.

James Crook (39:13):

What else? You bring up something else, too. What else do you think insurance companies could do to help dentists, healthcare professionals avoid disability? What else could they be doing?

Dr. Kimberly Harms (39:34):

I know that there’re some companies in our area that are getting into the dental school and talking a little bit more. That’s happening much more than when I was in school. I don’t remember. I’m sure someone talked to me about disability insurance back in the 1970s at some point. Someone probably talked to me, but I sure wasn’t listening, and neither was my husband, very well. I’m sure someone talked to us about that, but they now are…

Dr. Kimberly Harms (39:58):

In fact, if you join the American Student Dental Association, they provide disability coverage as part of membership for the students, and I think that’s fabulous. I think the Dental Association making that statement that this is important, hopefully the students will keep that or extend that or get a new plan. At least they’ve had the experience of having disability insurance, at least while they’re in dental school. Hopefully, they will move ahead. But I think the companies getting into the dental schools and talking about it early. Also, talking about preventing the issues that I ended up with, I think, is a really important thing.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (40:40):

And I think, too, that, in this generation, there has been more of a focus on health and wellness and working out and so on. We baby boomers, we’re late into that, and I think the current millennial generation’s been growing up with that automatically all through their life. Hopefully, their backs might be a little stronger than ours, and they might be in a little better shape to be able to manage. And I think they’re open to the wellness issues, and probably pay a little more attention than maybe we did. But I think that’s the best thing they can do, is really strive for prevention. That’s the key.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (41:16):

And also, really to point out, I think sometimes people think, “Oh, boy, that would be wonderful. You get disability, then you don’t have to work.” But boy, what I wouldn’t give to work. What I wouldn’t give to be able to work right now. I’m sorry about that [background noise].

James Crook (41:30):

No, you’re fine.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (41:32):

My phone going off in the back. But I would give anything to be able to work, and again, to extend my work and to stop when I wanted to stop and not have to collect insurance.

James Crook (41:46):

Right. Well, that’s something that MGIS… That’s why we’re so focused on that market, is because we know that if a healthcare professional becomes disabled, they want to get back to what they were doing. There’s a lot of motivation besides just the financial side of it. That’s a really interesting point.

James Crook (42:17):

One of my final questions here. When you talk to… Do you have a chance to really talk to younger dentists about disability insurance?

Dr. Kimberly Harms (42:29):

I talk about being prepared. And I have done that one webinar, and when I go and I discuss things at the dental school, almost always I talk about things that can happen to you. I do seminars about… Somebody’s like, “Bad things can happen to you, so be careful.” And of course, buying insurance, and again, that prevention. Buying insurance doesn’t prevent the event from happening, but it prevents economic downfall after it happens. So I think that’s one of the things that I like to do. I really love working with students.

James Crook (43:08):

Do you ever get requests for recommendations for brokers or for insurance from people? I think you-

Dr. Kimberly Harms (43:17):

No, usually… Oh, I’m sorry.

James Crook (43:17):

I’m sorry. I was just going to say, if you do, what do you say?

Dr. Kimberly Harms (43:21):

I actually recommend that if they’re getting an individual plan, it’s good to get a plan that has somehow been looked over by someone that really knows how to look over insurance, to make sure that it has all the coverage that want, and to make sure that you know what you’re buying. Frankly, the plans that I bought, I was buying an insurance plan and that was it. I didn’t really know what I was getting. And I also recommend that they look to the Organized Dentistry. Sometimes they have different plans that they recommend, because those plans have been evaluated by a committee of dentists, and they’re dental-specific. Buying insurance that’s dental-specific is really important. If brokers can attach themselves to a plan that’s been sponsored by Organized Dentistry or an organized group is really helpful.

James Crook (44:18):

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And that reminds me. One of our first podcasts, we talked to a broker who had been in the business for 50 years, and the biggest thing he stressed was that brokers have to know the contracts. They have to become contract experts. It sounds like you recommend people find contract experts to help them. I think it’s fun to see themes connecting themselves in these conversations.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (44:54):

It would be terrible to suffer the disability, think you have insurance, find out that it’s not what you thought.

James Crook (45:02):

Yeah. I do a lot of resume help with people, and sometimes I ask them, “What were you doing before you came to me or someone who knows what they’re doing?” A lot of times, they go, “Well, I just look at my friend’s thing, and I try and copy that.” I think it’s a similar concept. Be careful that the blind don’t lead the blind.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (45:29):

And that is true. I just have to say, our profession, dentists are a little guilty of that, and maybe some other healthcare professionals who think we know what we’re doing. We’re pretty smart, we know what we’re doing. And sometimes, we think we know what we’re doing beyond what we really know what we’re doing. My daughter’s a dental attorney. She works in dental contract law. She finds that all the time, and she’ll say, “Why did they sign this contract? I don’t even know what this is. They’ve signed their life away. Why did they do this?” She sees that, too, because dentists…guilty! We tend to think we can figure this out, so we like to save money. And so many times, we don’t realize we need a broker, and that’s a mistake. Or we need a lawyer, or a broker, or an accountant. We can make some big mistakes if we do that. But everyone’s an individual. That’s not going to go away.

James Crook (46:31):

Any startup, no matter the industry, I think, needs a good lawyer and a good accountant.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (46:35):


James Crook (46:35):

I think that’s definitely true. Well, thank you. Your insights have been very, very helpful. It’s been fun to talk to you tonight. I appreciate it.

Dr. Kimberly Harms (46:47):

Well, thanks for asking me.

James Crook (46:50):

Yeah, of course.

James Crook (46:51):

Thanks for listening to The Broker Advisor podcast. If you enjoyed listening, please take a moment to subscribe. If you’re on The Broker Advisor blog, simply go to the left of your screen and subscribe. If you’re listening on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any other distribution channel, subscribe there. We’re available anywhere podcasts can be found. And remember, as always, this podcast is sponsored by MGIS – insurance healthcare professionals expect.

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