Insurers seemed to have an easier time increasing U.S. disability insurance sales in 2007 than they had growing group life sales.

The difference shows up 2007 market survey data collected by JHA, Portland, Maine, a research, consulting and reinsurance services unit of General Re Corp., Stamford, Conn.

New sales of group short-term disability insurance increased 10%, to $651 million, as new sales of group long-term disability jumped 18%, to $1.5 billion.

At individual disability insurers, new sales of non-cancellable coverage increased 6.2%, to $287 million, and new sales of guaranteed renewable coverage rose 8.7%, to $49 million.

Meanwhile, at group life operations, premiums from new sales held steady at about $2 billion.

Sales of voluntary, employee-paid group life fell 2%, the JHA researchers report.

The average premium per life rose just 1% in the voluntary group life market, to $193, and fell 3% in the basic life market, to $140.

JHA included 32 carriers in the group life survey, 27 in the group disability survey, and 15 in the individual DI survey.

“It was surprising to us that sales were so strong in disability and weak in group life,” says Stacy Varney, a vice president at JHA.

Although the group disability sales growth rates were higher, the overall individual DI sales growth rate was the highest recorded in about 5 years, Varney says.

One possible reason that disability insurance performed better is that the disability insurance market is less saturated than the group life market, and another possible reason is that insurers had a hard time topping the excellent results they produced in 2006, Varney says.

But Varney says she believes some of the success may be due to educational efforts by JHA and nonprofit groups such as the International DI Society, Seal Beach, Calif.; the Council for Disability Awareness, Portland, Maine; and the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education, Arlington, Va.

Aflac Inc., Columbus, Ga., may have helped by advertising disability insurance on television with the tagline, “Ask for it at work,” Varney says.

In the coming year, the state of the economy could be a challenge both for group life sellers and for disability insurance sellers, Varney says.

She says brokers told her in April that the biggest challenge employers face these days is “just paying the bills.”

But, even if sales of employer-paid benefits soften, “I do think the voluntary offerings will continue to flourish,” Varney says.

Although voluntary group life sales fell in 2007, voluntary group disability sales increased 5%.

JHA also looked at the accidental death and dismemberment insurance market.

In-force premium revenue increased 7%, as the monthly premium for in-force business fell 3%, to 3 cents per $1,000 of coverage.