Insurers, financial professionals and others have to work harder to help reporters understand that 20% of consumers will be disabled for more than 90 days before reaching age 65.

Representatives for the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education, Washington, delivered that message here today at a press conference held to release an analysis of media coverage of disability insurance.

LIFE commissioned the analysis together with Guardian Life Insurance Company of American, New York.

The researchers who compiled the analysis reviewed 493 articles published in 2005 and 2006 that contained the phrase “disability insurance.”

The researchers looked to see whether each article included conveyed one or more of the “key messages” that disability insurers want to convey: that consumers often underestimate the need for coverage; that the ability to earn income is a consumer’s most important asset; that small business owners should consider disability insurance; and that some policies protect 401(k) plan assets.

The researchers also defined another “key message”: a discussion of when disability insurance benefits are taxed.

About 26% of the 2006 articles analyzed for the study communicated at least one of the key messages about disability insurance, up from 23% in 2005, the researchers found.

About 17% of the 2006 articles mentioned that consumers often underestimate the need for disability insurance, up from 14% in 2005, the researchers report.

But only 1% of the 2006 articles mentioned availability of 401(k) protection, and that figure was unchanged from the percentage mentioning 401(k) protection in 2005.

The percentage of articles suggesting that small business owners should consider buying disability insurance actually dropped, to 4%, from 6%, the researchers report.

“Disability insurance is not an easy product to sell, because there’s not a lot of information out there,” said Lawrence Hazzard, a vice president at Berkshire Life Insurance Company, a Guardian subsidiary.

Matthew Gottfried, director of individual disability at Berkshire Life, said the industry itself is partly to blame.

“The industry doesn’t do as good a job as it could promoting [the] product,” Gottfried said.

David Woods, chief executive officer at the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Falls Church, Va., talked about the difficulty of helping consumers understand that the ability to earn income is their greatest asset.

Although “the need is great, the challenges are great,” Woods said.