Disability insurers are trying to persuade group plan insureds to check their weight, their blood pressure and their cholesterol, and to take action if any of those indicators show signs of trouble.

The workers with the most obvious need for disability insurance also tend to be obvious candidates for wellness programs, according to MetLife Inc., New York.

When the company commissioned a worker survey, analysts found that 59% of the workers surveyed who described their health as fair or poor also said they live paycheck to paycheck, compared with 34% of the employees who said they are in very good or excellent health.

Roughly 94% of U.S. employers agree that wellness programs can reduce medical costs, but, in 2009, only 33% of employers offered wellness programs, and that percentage has drifted upward at a leisurely rate from 27% in 2005, MetLife analysts report.

UnitedHealth Group Inc., Minnetonka, Minn., and Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., Memphis, Tenn., have announced an effort to integrate medical, disability, leave, absence and wellness programs, in part in an effort to improve “long-term wellness outcomes.”

Aetna Inc., Hartford, recently published data showing that integrating wellness programs with health and disability plans can lead to quick, measurable effects on health claims and short-term disability claims.

When Aetna offered an integrated program that included a health risk assessment screening, integrated program members were 3 times more likely than members of ordinary plans to complete an assessment, and 35% of the members who completed an assessment joined a wellness program.

Absenteeism was lower for the integrated program members, Aetna says.

At one large Aetna customer with a well-integrated program, many members who started out with bad blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar readings brought those risks under control within 6 months.

“More than half of members eliminated high blood pressure, and nearly a third eliminated high blood sugar as risk factors,” Aetna says.

Other related studies found that integrated program members had 15% fewer inpatient admissions than control group members, 33% fewer inpatient days, and average STD claim durations that were 3.2 days shorter, Aetna says.

MetLife has noticed increasing employer interest in integrated data tracking programs, according to Michael Fradkin, a vice president for disability and long term care product management at MetLife.

MetLife recently introduced a “total absence management” program that tracks and administers employee absences. “Managers have access to real-time information and tracking and advanced reporting capabilities,” Fradkin says.

Christopher Tamney, a benefits account executive in the Chicago office of Lockton Inc., says the main obstacle to implementing and demonstrating the value of wellness programs, disease management programs and return-to-work programs is lack of coordinated data.

Employers tend to choose different insurers to handle health benefits and ancillary benefits, and “there are not many opportunities to package them together,” Tamney says.

But employers are interested in seeing evidence about how integrated programs pay off, Tamney says.