PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLA. — An insurance group should support a project to find out how terrorist attacks, economic disasters and natural disasters affect the likelihood that U.S. residents with disability insurance will suffer from disabling mental health problems.
Dr. David Tolin, director of the Anxiety Disorders Center, Hartford, and Dr. David Lovejoy, behavioral health director at the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, Mass., made that recommendation here at a disability conference organized by JHA, Portland, Maine, a reinsurance and risk management arm of General Re Life Corp., Stamford, Conn.
Tolin and Lovejoy ran a breakout session at the conference on the effects of disastrous events on mental health-related disability claims.
Insurance industry employees suffered directly from the effects of a major man-made disaster just 8 years ago.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York killed hundreds of employees of Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc., New York (NYSE:MMC(, and Aon Corp., Chicago (NYSE:AON), and 9 employees and 2 consultants at Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, New York, which is now part of WellPoint Inc., Indianapolis (NYSE:WLP). The attacks also killed Neil Levin, a former New York state insurance superintendent, and they forced thousands of insurance carrier, insurance broker and benefits consulting firm employees to flee from offices in the Twin Towers.
But, even though the attacks disrupted the lives of thousands of insurance industry employees, as well as hundreds of thousands of disability plan insureds, insurers have been reluctant to release information about their own 9/11 “mental & nervous” claims because of competitive concerns and administrative concerns, Tolin and Lovejoy said during an interview.
Results of consumer surveys give some information about how mental health-related absenteeism and “presenteeism” change over time, but those survey results do not necessarily correlate with changes in disability claims, Tolin said.
Researchers have conducted studies on the psychological effects of traumatic events, such as waves of terrorist bombings, on the people in other countries, but those studies cannot necessarily help researchers predict how similar events would affect people in the United States, Lovejoy said.
Getting good information about the effects of traumatic events on U.S. work impairment is important, because “mass traumas are going to continue to happen,” Tolin said.
Insurance industry groups may be in the best position to help researchers persuade insurers to share mental & nervous claim data, Lovejoy said.
Also at the JHA conference:
- THE RISE OF EMPLOYEE-PAID PLANS: Christopher Jerome, a senior vice president at Unum Group Corp., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Robert Dignazio, an assistant vice president in the Wellesley Hill, Mass.-based U.S. operations of Sun Life Financial Inc., reported that traditional group disability insurers continue to seek opportunities to see employee-paid plans but continue to face cultural barriers.
The average amount of premiums per life tends to be smaller in the voluntary market, and employee consumers “really don’t understand the benefit,” Dignazio says.
When Sun Life worked with JHA to conduct a consumer survey, it found that many consumers view dental insurance and even vision insurance as being more important than LTD or short-term disability insurance, and that they are quick to drop LTD coverage when their expenses rise.
Researchers found, for example, that some consumers said they had dropped LTD coverage when they faced the expenses associated with buying a house – even though disabling illnesses and injuries cause many foreclosures.
Group disability insurers tend to pay level commissions, take a relatively low-touch approach to setting up plans and enrolling employees, and provide solid customer service once plans are in place, according to the panelists and audience members.
Audience members described a typical disability benefits broker as someone who plays a round of golf with a client and then makes a deal.
Historically, audience members said, worksite marketing companies have paid high up-front sales commissions, and used agents or enrollers who are at the worksite with donuts when the first employees arrive and stay until the last employees leave. But, in some cases, audience members said, the worksite companies have rigid computer systems that are hard to customize for large employers, and, in the past, they have tended to pay less attention to service once a plan was in place, audience members said.
An insurance company executives in the audience said he wished traditional benefits brokers were more interested in working with employees one-on-one.
“As their income stream from group health has been at risk, they haven’t changed anything,” the audience member said.
- HEALTH BILL EFFORTS: Several speakers talked about the possible effects of federal health bill efforts on the disability insurance community.
“What happens there has a huge impact on our business,” JHA President Drew King said during a general session.