Broken leg The primary benefit ofdisability coverage, which most employees understand, is thepartial payment of income should a working person encounter acovered disabling event. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Disability Insurance Awareness Month came to a close in May, butits messages are as relevant as ever. Theseriousness of those messages creates the opportunity—andresponsibility—for benefits managers and advisors to engage withemployers well ahead of open enrollment. Like May, open enrollmentwill arrive—and be over—all too soon.

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The reality is that one in four adults in the U.S. lives with adisability, and more than one in four of today’s 20-year-olds willbecome disabled before they reach retirement age. While people take disability leavefrom the workplace for a variety of reasons, the most commoncauses—depression, arthritis and other degenerative joint diseases,and lower back and neck strains—can happen to anyone and havepersisting impacts on individuals, their families and theiremployers. In fact, the Integrated Benefits Institute found thatillness-related lost productivity costs U.S. employers $530 billionper year due to almost 1.4 billion days of employee workabsence.

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Related: Taking “disability” out of disabilityinsurance

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Despite these statistics, many individuals who experience adisabling event are physically, emotionally and financiallyunprepared for it. Cigna recently commissioned the Cigna GroupDisability Study of 500 U.S. adults and found that among thosewithout disability coverage, 52 percent took more than two years torecover financially and half experienced depression. On top ofthat, 42 percent became financially dependent on family andfriends—about two times that of individuals with coverage—androughly one-third or more were extremely worried about theirability to pay living expenses.

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With open enrollment on the horizon, now is the time forbenefits managers and advisors to engage with employers about theshort- and long-term disability coverage offerings available toemployees. Below are three key points to help benefits expertscommunicate the value of this coverage.

1. Financial support, outside of just salary, to help weatherthe disabling event.

The primary benefit of disability coverage, which most employeesunderstand, is the partial payment of income should a workingperson encounter a covered disabling event. But the benefits don’tstop there.

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During open enrollment (and throughout the year) employers musteducate employees about the financial support included with theirplan that goes above-and-beyond what’s expected, which may includeautomatic claim payments, money-coaching, Social Security Advocacyand financial counseling programs.

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Social Security Advocacy, which can include guidance andpayments for attorney fees and other associated costs, isespecially important because it helps bridge the gap to retirement.People often don’t understand that, if they are out on disabilityleave, they stop contributing to Social Security, and may needlegal support to ensure they receive the supplemental socialsecurity income they deserve.

2. Total health and wellness benefits associated withdisability coverage.

Ancillary health and wellness benefits, outside of financialsupport, offered through an employer can help put the value ofcoverage in perspective. Think about it this way: When people takedisability leave because of an illness or injury, they must spendtime focusing on what’s important during recovery: their physicaland emotional health. By educating employees about thereturn-to-work programs that may be available with coverage, suchas personal health coaching, health engagement, advocacy, technicalassistance and re-acclimation support, employers can demonstratehow they support employees from a holistic health and well-beingperspective.

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In some cases, employer’s may offer behavioral health benefitswhich can help guide individuals through a disabling event’sunanticipated issues, such as depression, emotional hardships andaddiction. These benefits can prove to be a differentiator inemployer benefit plans, helping employers to shorten the durationof a disability leave and get their employees back to optimalhealth sooner.

3. Holistic pre-disability and absence managementprograms.

Today, companies are employing pre-disabilityprograms—leveraging their total health and wellness benefits—tohelp prevent a disabling event in the first place. Such programsoffer a holistic view of the individual and are designed to keepemployees healthier both at and away from work. The problem is:Many employees either don’t know about their options or they’reunsure how to get involved. This leaves a substantial opportunityto help employers better engage with and direct employees topreventive programs, ensuring their ability to better identifyat-risk individuals who may need additional support.

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An example falls within the absence management space. A recentanalysis of more than one million Cigna claims revealed thatindividuals who experienced a work absence, such as Family MedicalLeave, had a higher likelihood of filing a short-term disabilityclaim in the future. In fact, individuals were shown to be fourtimes more likely to have such a claim if they were taking care oftheir own health while caring for a family member. With early andproactive employee engagement, employers can play a critical rolein managing overall health and well-being – which may ultimatelylead to greater productivity.

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The physical, emotional and financial impacts of disability cutacross all age groups and demographics, and can affect a life invery connected ways. Benefits managers and advisors must do theirdue diligence this open enrollment season to ensure that the fullbreadth of their clients’ disability coverage options andeducational resources is made available to employees. This willhelp individuals proactively guard against unexpected – andchallenging – life events.

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Lynn Goldbach is vice president of Cigna GroupClaims.


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