Discuss as:

Tools of the trade: Surgeons insure hands

If Playboy Bunny Holly Madison insures her breasts for $1 million, it makes sense that surgeons, who delicately perform miracles with their hands, may need similar protection.

Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, acknowledged she insures her hands Tuesday while being interviewed during a TODAY segment.

While discussing Madison’s policy, Snyderman says she insured her hands because “I’ve always thought that someday there would be an executive who would say, 'I don’t want her face on television anymore,' and my television career would be over. I could always put food on my table being a surgeon.” (You can watch the video here -- she makes the comment around the 7:08 mark.)

She’s not the only surgeon who has considered something bad happening to her hands.

Dr. Joseph Colella, a bariatric surgeon in Pittsburgh, says he also insured his hands for about $8 million. He got the idea about 12 years ago, only a year or so after he began his career, when he met with an insurance agent to discuss his occupational disability insurance.

“It doesn’t insure you for your salary; it insures you for your ability to do your job,” says Colella, who was one of the first surgeons in the nation to perform the weight-loss surgery with a Da Vinci robot. “I could still be a neurologist or anesthesiologist, but that may not be what I want to do. If something happened to my hands, it may force me to a career choice that I’m not interested in.”

Colella says the insurance also gives him peace of mind when he’s not in the operating room.

“You can play with your children,” says the assistant professor and director of robotic surgery at the Magee Women’s Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “You can live your life and never have to worry about getting injured. Now, obviously I don’t do reckless things. That, I can tell you; I don’t play with knives or fireworks.”

Surgeons insure their hands, and celebrities and other professionals insure other body parts more often than we think, says Alan Levin, chair of insurance and re-insurance at Edward Wildman and Palmer, LLP, in New York City.

“Every object has a value. So I’m Jimmy Durante and it’s my nose, I’m Mary Hart and it’s my legs or I’m a surgeon and it’s my hands. If I can’t work without my hands, it’s $5 million a year. I’ve lost 20 or 25 years' income, so an insurer should be able to put a value on that a place a premium on the risk,” says Levin, whose firm represents insurance companies that issue policies on body parts. “When you look at the amount that the party is insured for, there has to be a nexus or an actual sound basis for coming up with a value on the body part.”

1 in 5 surgeons insures hands, Truth On Call poll finds

The practice of celebrities and high-dollar professionals insuring body parts may have started in the 1930’s when Ben Turpin, a silent film actor, took out a $25,000 policy on his cross-eyes.

Levin says the insurance is by no means cheap, and could run people who hold such policies into the millions in premiums.

Colella says he doesn’t pay more than anything the average surgeon can’t afford, but Dr. Jeffrey Spiegel, a facial plastic surgeon in Boston, says he’s insured for more than he cares to share publicly.

A world-renowned surgeon who says he is the last resort for people who can’t find what they want with other plastic surgeons, says he has insured his hands “for considerably more than $8 million,” enough to cover him every year for the rest of his life.

“There are a lot of different ways my hands can be injured,” says Spiegel. “I do very advanced facial surgery, micro surgery, and if my hands were injured, I possibly may not be able to do what I do now.”

Spiegel says he’s not interested in doing anything “slightly less” than what he does now although he knows he could practice as a pediatrician or a psychiatrist with more training.

“I wanted to insure that I can practice at the high level that I do,” he says, “and I had to get a special policy to do that.”