Fewer Workers File Disability Claims as Economy Improves

The number of U.S. workers filing long-term disability claims declined for the first time in at least four years in 2012 amid an improving economy and employment picture.

About 662,000 workers filed claims, a 2 percent drop from a year earlier, the Council for Disability Awareness said in a report based on data from 2008 through 2012. Still, total claims payments grew to $9.4 billion in 2012, the fifth straight year of increases, the CDA said in a report today.

“Claims are improving,” Barry Lundquist, CDA president, said in a telephone interview. “Consumer confidence levels are higher. The employment rate is improving. People have better opportunities to go back to work, and that’s an important part of the services insurance companies help provide.”

The U.S. unemployment rate hit a four-year-low of 7.5 percent in April before rising to 7.6 percent last month. Household wealth jumped to a record in the first quarter, exceeding its pre-recession peak for the first time, the Federal Reserve said on June 6.

Unum Group, Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. and MetLife Inc. are among the largest providers of long-term disability coverage through employers, according to data compiled by General Re, a reinsurer owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Hartford and Prudential Financial Inc., the second-largest U.S. life insurer, have each said they were adding new executives and raising rates after being burned in prior quarters with higher-than-expected claims costs.

Prudential’s Plan

Charles Lowrey, chief operating office for Prudential’s U.S. business, said today that the company is one year into a three-year plan to improve profit margins at the disability business.

“We’re beginning to see the results of our efforts,” he said at a presentation by the Newark, New Jersey-based company. “We brought in new senior management. We repriced or let lapse about a third of the book.”

Workers 50 and older have been driving new claims as the population ages, the council said in its report. Lundquist said insurers’ back-to-work efforts and employers’ wellness programs are helping workers return to the job faster.

“The longer you’re away, the harder it is to get back physically and mentally,” he said. “It’s a way-overlooked side benefit to disability insurance.”

CDA’s members include insurers American International Group Inc., MetLife and Prudential. Nineteen member companies representing more than 75 percent of the disability-insurance market contributed claims data for the survey, CDA said.

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