U.S. group disability inforce premium grew around 7% in 2006, from aboout $11 billion in 2005 to more than $12 billion, according to a survey by JHA Inc., Portland, Maine.

The figure represent combined sales for short- and long-term disability insurance policies among 32 carriers, representing over 95% of the market.

Companies reported an 8% increase in STD inforce premium and a 7% increase in LTD inforce premium. JHA, a unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., Omaha, Neb., reports the number of employers offering disability coverage rose at 5% for STD and 3% for LTD, while the total number of insured employees rose by 8% for STD and 6% for LTD.

The survey also showed that 2006 U.S. group disability sales (STD and LTD) remained about level with 2005, totaling over $1.9 billion in new annualized premium. While STD sales premium fell by close to 2%, new LTD sales premium showed an increase of 2% in 2006.

The top 10 carriers’ share of the DI market fell slightly in 2006. Together, they wrote 73% of new STD business in 2006 and almost 78% of new LTD business, compared to 2005, when the same carriers wrote 76% and 83% of new sales, respectively, for STD and LTD.

“After posting a slight gain in 2005, overall industry sales slipped a bit in 2006,” said Drew King, president of JHA. “Voluntary LTD sales were up, after a couple of down years, which is a positive sign. Inforce premium growth, which is dependent on renewals, persistency and wage inflation, was consistent with recent years.”