David R. Cox, PhD, ABPP
At various times, ABPP specialists ask about insurance coverage for the activities in which they engage while serving ABPP. These are important questions and some of us have recently spent a fair amount of time updating ourselves about this topic. I encourage you to read this information in order that you make informed decisions about your involvement with ABPP, just as you would hopefully do with any other organization with which you volunteer. I will name some insurance carriers in this column, although these are provided as examples with which I am familiar or about whom others have provided information; this is not intended as an endorsement or promotion for insurance carrier(s).
It is important to note is that nothing has changed regarding ABPP’s insurance coverage. However, some people may misunderstand ABPP’s insurance coverage and/or may assume erroneous details of our coverage. It is important that each of us understand ABPP’s coverage and make your own determinations about managing your risk. Finally, to put this issue in context, it also important to understand that as far as I am aware, no one has filed a legal action against ABPP or any volunteer serving in an ABPP-related activity related to review of credentials, practice sample reviews or examinations in ABPP’s 70 year history.
In the early to mid-1990s, I helped found the American Board of Rehabilitation Psychology (ABRP). In this service, I inquired about insurance coverage. The information provided in this column is consistent with what was the case then, bearing testimony to the stability of ABPP’s practice in this area. Our insurance coverage and risk is no different than it was some 20 years ago, when I first inquired.
ABPP maintains a Directors & Officers Liability Policy through The Trust (formerly The American Psychological Association Insurance Trust or APAIT). We have carried this insurance as long as I can recall. This policy covers ABPP employees, members of the ABPP Board of Trustees, as well as officers of each specialty board, and internal/merged specialty academy board members. The ABPP policy covers these individuals for their service running their board, but does not include “professional services” including credentialing reviews and examinations. In other words, it provides coverage for the management of the board; management does not include credentialing or examination. This distinction may seem confusing. One may ask, “Isn’t the credentialing and examination precisely what the board’s business is?” It is; however, ABPP’s insurance policy covers the management, policy and such – decision-making and implementation regarding the rules and regulations of the board, not the examination of specific individual psychologists.
For the purposes of the activities that most ABPP volunteers provide (e.g., credential review, practice sample review, oral examinations), specialists should determine if and how they are insured. There are several options.
One option is to carry an individual professional liability insurance policy. Such a policy would, according to The Trust and the American Professional Agency (through whom some of us are insured and with whom we have discussed this issue), provide liability coverage for professional activities including services as a member of a formal accreditation, credentialing or standards review, or a similar professional board or committee. Many of us already carry such a policy; our professional liability (malpractice) policy.
One item that is worth noting here is that, with The Trust and American Professional Agency professional liability policies, the psychologist must be the named insured. If your practice’s corporation is the named insured, you would be well advised to speak with your carrier about adding your name as an additional named insured. Another option that is available to those that do not carry a professional malpractice policy is to carry a separate research/academician (RA) policy. Such a policy is available through The Trust. I have been informed that the coverage for the activities in the preceding paragraph is included in such a policy. The policy is written on a “claims made” basis. The RA policy is available to unlicensed individuals; that may include some ABPP psychologists who have retired and given up their license, yet, care to remain active with ABPP. You can also obtain a “claims made” policy through other malpractice carriers like the American Professional Agency that will cover you in your role as an ABPP volunteer.
“Claims made” means that the insurance covers claims made in the year the policy is owned. For continuous coverage, you would have to renew the policy each year. It is important for you to understand the difference is between “claims made” and “occurrence” and we suggest you check with the insurance people you bought the Professional Liability from to determine what coverage you have.
Perhaps you do not carry your own insurance policy, believing that your employer and/or its insurance (e.g., hospital, university, government agency) covers your activities. I have spoken to many people about this over the years. For what it is worth, my advice is to 1) verify the nature of your insurance coverage with your employer (or preferably, your employer’s insurance carrier), asking exactly what activities in which you engage are or are not covered, and 2) carry your own policy (whether you volunteer for ABPP or not). Why do I advise this? Although your employer’s insurance policy may cover you, likely, you are not the named insured, and therefore, if there were legal action the insurance company’s lawyers would be defending the interests of the named insured, which may or may not coincide with your interests. By carrying your own policy, you know you have your interests covered directly.
Finally, commercial insurance carriers such as State Farm, Allstate, GEICO and others sell what are called umbrella policies. An umbrella policy can cover many kinds of liability; slip and fall, accidental property damage, slander, libel and other activities that you hopefully never need to defend against, yet about which you could be sued. You might wish to speak with your carrier about this option as well. I know some ABPP psychologists who have discussed this with their insurance agent and been informed that such a policy would provide coverage for volunteer activities such those in which you might engage in with ABPP (or other organizations with which you volunteer).
So, why doesn’t ABPP provide a policy for every volunteer? There are several reasons why ABPP providing malpractice coverage for all ABPP volunteers is impractical. A simple response would be that to provide such coverage would be quite expensive, but that would minimize the complexity. Such coverage would have limited liability caps as well as cost many thousands of dollars. However, it is also very difficult to know at any given time the specific names of every ABPP specialist volunteering in the various capacities in which ABPP volunteers engage. To provide an accurate list of volunteers to an insurance carrier each specialty board would have to first inform ABPP Central Office, who, in turn, would have to update the carrier. The burden on specialists, specialty boards and Central Office of maintaining timely lists of an ever-changing list of volunteers for 15 specialty boards would be an immense and daunting job. The ABPP Executive Committee recently discussed this option and agreed that procuring such a policy wouldn’t be feasible.
“Anyone can be sued for anything at any time” is an adage in the legal arena. Keep in mind that in 70 years no ABPP volunteer has been sued for their volunteer service to ABPP. We do not anticipate a lawsuit. However, we want all specialists to be well and correctly informed.
In conclusion, each of us should consider risk management in the context of our individual situation and activities. Personally, I have always carried my own professional liability policy even when employed by universities or medical centers, and I have carried an umbrella policy for a couple of decades as well. I simply thought it wise, and still do. Others make different choices. You should, however, make an informed, educated decision about your own situation. If you already carry a policy, I suggest you speak with your insurance carrier if you have any questions; different carriers may provide different coverage. There are many options and approaches to risk management. Always, find one with which you are comfortable.
Thank you all for all that you do with, and for, ABPP and the profession of psychology. Your work is invaluable.