Millions of Americans mistakenly believe that they are protected against disabilities that would keep them off work, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans, which today launched a campaign to increase awareness of the problem.

“Families dangerously underestimate their vulnerability… and they dangerously overestimate their coverage,” said Karen Ignagni, president of AHIP, Washington.

About 58% of Americans believe that they have disability coverage, even though only 35% actually do, Ignagni said.

AHIP has set up a Web site to educate consumers about the risks they face at Document Link

AHIP also is trying to contribute to the general body of knowledge about disability and disability insurance, by releasing a policy brief and a survey report addressing disability issues.

The brief, by David Stapleton, Richard Burkhauser and Peiyun She of Cornell University and Robert Weathers II of Mathematica Policy Research Inc., Princeton, N.J., concludes that the current public-private disability system is “under stress and in great need of innovation.”

The situation could get progressively worse as the “baby boom” generation ages further, the researchers write.

But Robert Beal, author of a survey report from Milliman Inc., Seattle, on behalf of AHIP, says return-to-work programs can serve as a very helpful tool for disabled workers.

Insurers have invested a great deal in such programs, with annual budgets for return to work programs ranging between $450,000 to more than $10 million, writes Beal, who is a principal and consulting actuary at Milliman.

In 2005, private disability insurers spent an average of $3,200 on each disabled employee receiving rehabilitation and return-to-work services, Beal writes.

“Return-to-work programs allow employers to retain experienced employees while at the same time helping disabled workers gain financial independence and go on living fulfilling and productive lives,” Beal writes.