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Practice Management > Building Your Business

The Disability Management Dance

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Have you considered all the steps involved with selecting disability insurance coverage? It’s not as simple as scheduling a meeting and closing the deal. There’s give and take. There’s due diligence involved. You ask yourself, “Do I really want my client to partner with this company for the foreseeable future?”

As a rule, employers and their benefits advisors seem to have a vague understanding of costs and drivers that determine their premium rates. At the inception of a disability policy proposal, the underwriter evaluates a wide range of risk factors coupled with the consumer’s stated desires regarding type and level of coverage. Chief among these risk factors is the probability of return to work with the employer or a new employer.

To complicate matters, there are competing interests between the stakeholders and prospective carriers. These competing interests include affordability, quality of coverage, disability management and profitability.

So many choices but only one right fit. In looking at the process, it’s easy to compare it to a modern day courtship. Let’s examine the stages and compare:

1. Invitation to the Dance or the Request for Proposal

At this stage, the employer or interested buyer works through a broker or consultant to invite several prospective suitors to provide a detailed proposal outlining what they want in terms of the relationship, business conditions and services provided as well as a host of questions regarding how things are done and who does what. Most carriers are truthful. Some are obliging and say whatever it takes to stay invited.

2. The Courtship or the Proposal

Think back to your first date or senior prom. Did you pay extra attention to your appearance? Did you mind your manners and try to say the right thing at the right time?

During our response to the RFP, we dig deeper to provide whatever information we can that proves our success and worthiness for consideration by the employer, all the while under the watchful eye of the chaperone (the broker). Again, we remain on our best behavior at all times. Likewise, the prospective buyer usually indicates through the RFP questionnaire a strong interest and commitment to disability management and return to work of the newly disabled employees. Everything sounds good and it appears to be a match made in heaven.

3. Engagement or Contract Negotiation

Look at most newly engaged couples and you’ll see a level of excitement as they look toward a future full of promise and good times. There may be some underlying differences, but they’re not deal breakers. In contract negotiation, details of our implied and written contract are outlined so all can understand. Or think of it this way: One member of the couple wants four children and the other wants two. One business partner wants 50% income replacement and no rehab and the other wants 70% income replacement and compulsory rehab. These are small details; the important thing is we like and trust each other and know the right thing will be done when the time comes.

4. The Announcement or Contract Signing

Everyone is excited. “I am marrying the person of my dreams.” “This is a great business partnership.” “We will do great things together.” “I’ll make my matchmaker my maid of honor!” At this stage everything is good and we see things through rose-colored glasses. We landed the person/business partner of our dreams. No issues surrounding dirty laundry and housekeeping differences, misunderstanding of the contract, or non-routine claims.

5. The Marriage or the Partnership

This is the critical period in both situations. Everyone thinks they know the rules, at least until something negative happens. In marriage, perhaps it’s the first check overdraft or disagreement over family issues.

In business, this is the stage where the rubber hits the road. How we handle and resolve problems or conflicts is absolutely critical to the future behavior of the parties. Good communication is key to success.

Creating a healthy partnership

For any relationship to be successful and healthy, ongoing maintenance is essential. Within the disability arena, common issues arise when employees become disabled and claims are filed with the carrier. Often, the breakdown occurs because the employer is not fully educated on return-to-work strategies for disabled employees.

Employers often have their own thoughts relating to disability claims. (See chart for the top five most heard comments.)

In reality, disability is a relative term that often evokes faulty beliefs about disabled employees. Strong brokers and strong disability management programs play an important role in educating both employers and employees about the multiple factors surrounding a disability claim.

Negatives into positives

By partnering with and relying on their disability management experts, employers will reduce lost employee productivity and incidence of permanent disability. To turn a negative disability situation into a positive outcome, there are a number of available solutions these experts can turn to if given the opportunity.

In most instances, these positive solutions exist for almost any problem. For many newly disabled employees, early return to work is pivotal to their recovery. In addition, most employees are highly motivated to return to work. From the employer’s perspective, getting an employee back to work is critical to productivity, profitability and employee morale.

Mastering the dance

The disability dance can become more complex than necessary. Failure often results from the lack of communication, partnership, policy and procedures. In addition, employers may unknowingly take a reactive vs. proactive approach to disability cases based off faulty belief systems or fear. All of these negative phenomena are avoidable when it comes to the business of disability management.

During the courtship, employers negotiate up front for a disability management program that facilitates early return to work. Yet when employees sustain a disability, the more common approach is to dispose of the person and move on. Within the disability management industry it is well known that many employers prefer their newly disabled employees to work elsewhere. But a quick “divorce” is not always the easy answer.

Employers who don’t take advantage of their opportunity to retain capable employees may frequently end up dealing with higher incidences of disability, reduced morale and lost productivity. There is also a risk that the employee could accuse the employer of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In successful relationships, whether they are business or personal, both parties rely on the strengths of the other. When combined with a high level of trust and communication, the relationship is sure to stay on track and be successful. Successful disability management partnerships are no different. If approached correctly, everyone can enjoy the dance.

Faulty Beliefs

1. My employee is totally disabled and there’s no way he/she will return to work.

2. Until my employee is fully recovered, we can’t use him or her.

3. This job can’t be altered or accommodated in any way, shape or form.

4. We can’t afford accommodations or assistive technology.

5. We don’t believe he or she is really disabled; the employee is just lazy.


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