Disability insurance along with hospital income and medical benefits showed the highest sales growth among voluntary worksite employee benefits in 2006, Eastbridge Associates Inc., Avon, Conn., reports.

Worksite benefit sales in 2006 totaled $4.7 billion, up about 8% from 2005, according to Eastbridge’s 2006 U.S. Worksite Sales Study. The report was based on a survey of 61 group and individual worksite marketing carriers.

Disability insurance moved into first place among worksite benefits with a 23% share of that market vs. 21% for life insurance, the study found.

Total disability insurance sales were $1.1 billion, up 25% from $884 million in 2005. Of that total, short-term disability insurance accounted for around $818 million, or 74%, of total DI sales.

Long-term disability products grew more than any other voluntary benefit line increasing 54% from 2005 to 2006, compared to an STD increase of 17% for the year.

Much of the boost to sales of LTD products was due to the efforts of 2 or 3 carriers, while Aflac Inc., Columbus, Ga., accounted for much of the increase in STD insurance, the study found.

Total sales of hospital income and other voluntary medical products amounted to about $739 million, up 12% over $673 million in 2005.

Hospital-medical lines included in the study consist of hospital indemnity plans; supplemental, or “gap” plans; and limited-benefit medical plans, or mini-meds. All told, these benefits accounted for a 15% share of the voluntary market in 2006.

The strong numbers for these products are signs of rising employee interest in products that help cover increasing medical costs, according to Eastbridge.

Total life insurance sales in the market dropped by 3%. Term life, which accounts for about 64% of all voluntary life sales, fell slightly, while universal life and whole life policy sales in the workplace declined 7%.

Voluntary dental products continued a recent decline with a 15% drop in sales, making 2006 the third year in a row that sales of these products fell, Eastbridge reports.

Long term care insurance showed a rebound from recent declines in the workplace, rising to $88 million from about $80 million in 2005.

Cancer insurance sales grew almost 25%, while critical illness insurance declined by 4%.

Around 57% of voluntary benefit sales consisted of individual products, compared to 43% for group products, Eastbridge reports.