A health insurance trade group is gathering bits of data that insurers and producers can use to pierce the baby boomers’ psychological defenses against thinking about the risk of disability.

In the past decade, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, and its members have focused attention on the perils facing the “young invincibles”-20-something Americans who go without health coverage, in part because they believe illness can’t happen to them.

More recently, inspired in part by the efforts of groups such as the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education, Arlington, Va., and the Council for Disability Awareness, Portland, Maine, to increase awareness of disability and disability insurance, AHIP researchers have been looking at gaps in public knowledge about disabilities and disability coverage.

Some boomers seem to have the same kind of “won’t happen to me” attitude about disability insurance that the young invincibles have about health insurance, according to AHIP President Karen Ignagni.

Years ago, most Americans in their late 40s, 50s and early 60s had paid off their mortgages and pushed their youngest children firmly out the door. Today, many boomers in those age brackets are still working to pay off mortgage loans and even to handle elementary school tuition bills. Despite the responsibilities of the “graying invincibles,” some who could afford to buy solid protection make do with employer-provided coverage, or no income protection, AHIP researchers have found.

“There is a major awareness deficit,” Ignagni says. “Boomers have left themselves unprotected, and that, I think, is a tsunami that will hurt boomers.”

AHIP is gearing up to try to use May-LIFE’s Disability Insurance Awareness Month–as a vehicle for convincing boomers to take the risk of become disabled seriously.

Two years ago, AHIP commissioned a survey that mapped consumers’ thinking about disability insurance. In answers to that survey, boomer participants “overestimated their coverage and underestimated their risk,” Ignagni says.

This year, AHIP has commissioned a series of three short Web surveys.

In the answers to the first of the three new surveys, boomers showed some signs that the first Disability Insurance Awareness Month, held last May, and other educational campaigns are starting to get through.

About 63% of the boomer participants said they knew that a typical U.S. working adult is more likely to suffer from disability due to a serious illness or injury than to die.

But, in response to another question, about half of the boomer participants estimated that the chance of a U.S. worker missing 3 months of work or more because of an illness or injury is only about 10%.

Actuaries say the actual risk is about 30%.

Meanwhile, only 46% of the boomers said they are very or somewhat concerned about the risk of becoming disabled.

AHIP researchers are putting the finishing touches on summaries of results from a survey dealing with boomers’ beliefs about public disability protection programs and a survey focusing on the steps that boomers are taking to protect themselves against the risk of loss of income.

“Many people [say] they’re covered by workers’ comp,” Ignagni says.

Although that is probably true, it is not especially relevant, because on-the-job injuries cause only a small percentage of boomers’ disability claims, Ignagni says.

AHIP researchers are finding that boomers also tend to overestimate the level of protection that comes from the Social Security Disability Insurance program and other public disability programs.

Often, that is why boomers “haven’t done as much as they need to do to protect their families,” Ignagni says.

Gathering any interesting data is useful for attracting the attention of the news media, Ignagni says.

Thanks to the reports AHIP already has released about disability coverage gaps, “they’re coming to us much, much more often,” Ignagni reports. Because of the new reports, when disability awareness month rolls around, “we’ll have a lot to talk about.”

Gathering data from, about and for boomers is particularly useful, because “boomers are very fact driven,” and offering them data can help win them over, she adds.