MIAMI–Disability insurers should do more than just try to get by, a consultant says.[@@]

Drew King, president of JHA Inc., Portland, Maine, a disability insurance reinsurance and consulting firm, delivered that message here to an audience consisting mostly of disability insurance executives.

King urged executives here for JHA’s 12th annual disability conference to “take the road less traveled” and find ways to adopt a longer-term approach to building customer relationships, sales and profits.

“We improve the lives of millions of people everyday, whether they ever submit a claim to us or not,” King said here. “We must demand an adequate return for the risks we take.”

Disability insurance executives should ask themselves whether shifting to a longer-term outlook and pushing for adequate profit margins might help them avoid the kinds of moves that have led to recent bad publicity about claims handling practices and alleged bid-rigging, King said.

To improve consumers’ attitude toward disability insurance, “we’ve got quite a hill to climb,” King said.

King said, however, there is some reason to be hopeful about the industry.

Many insurers in the market have done all right over the past year, and some industry indicators, such as group short-term disability rates and group long-term disability rates, are heading in the right direction, King said.

The JHA conference itself benefited from the slow-but-steady progress of many insurers in the market.

Attendance increased slightly, to 284, from 281 in 2004, despite a storm in the Northeast that jumbled airline schedules.

Elsewhere at the JHA conference, participants who sell services to disability insurers said their business has been good.

Michael Loiacano, vice president of the Jacobson Group, Chicago, an executive search, recruiting and temporary-help agency, said his firm has noticed an overall increase in demand for its services.

“I think people are starting to hire again,” Loiacano said. “On the permanent side, we’re seeing the market come back.”

David Fisher, president of PsyBar L.L.C., Minneapolis, said his firm has been doing more independent medical examinations for disability insurers.

“Companies have shown a pattern of wanting to very thoroughly investigate claims,” Fisher said.

New tests can help psychologists and psychiatrists do a better job of coming up with objective assessments of how severe psychological disabilities are, how hard claimants are working to get better and whether psychological problems are aggravating physical problems, such as chronic pain, Fisher said.