In a world of information overload, it is no surprise that the average attention span for adults is less than seven seconds. If an idea cannot be conveyed quickly, concisely and directly, customers will zone out. So how do you explain a complex and often misunderstood concept like disability insurance?

When it boils down to it, there are three keys to making disability insurance understandable: make it an emotional sale, use hard data to back it up and keep it real.

  1. Make it emotional.
    Plainly speaking, you have a three in 10 chance of becoming disabled for 90 days or more. Could you cover all your bills for three months or possibly more? What would happen if you couldn’t? Home foreclosures due to disability still outpace every other consequence, including job loss. Losing their home is a harsh reality, one that most of us would avoid at all costs — and yet 100 million Americans are not protected by private disability insurance. Positioning disability insurance in this light can pique more interest on a personal level than discussing jargon-laden benefit provisions.

  2. Back it up.
    Thanks to the digital age, information is available at our fingertips within mere seconds. Use it! Data, and lots of it, is at your disposal to back up the need for and efficacy of disability insurance. Several organizations, including the Council for Disability Awareness and Gen Re, produce numerous surveys and reports. For example, more than 70 percent of workers say a disability that prevents them from working would likely be caused by a serious accident when, in reality, more than 90 percent of disabilities are actually caused by illness. In fact, injuries only account for 9 percent of new long-term disability claims. Cancer is the second leading cause of new disability claims, representing 15 percent of all claims. And guess what–cancer is covered under disability insurance!
  3. Keep it real.
    Even with emotion and data supporting the need for disability insurance, there’s one final key to making it understandable: You have to keep it real. Targeting your audience with industry examples that are relevant to their specific field is extremely important.

I often like to open a presentation by conjuring up the perceived image of a disabled person confined to a wheelchair, unable to perform even basic functions, like feeding or bathing themselves, for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, many workers create this image in their minds when they hear the word “disability”–and it’s really not an accurate image. In truth, the average long-term disability absence lasts 2 1/2 years. In addition, more than one in four income-interrupting disabilities are triggered by muscle and bone disorders such as back problems, joint pain and muscle pain, with which people can easily identify.

Another way to drive home the need for disability insurance is to use an example of either a co-worker that recently became disabled or a community member. This really strikes close to home and keeps things real.

Combating reliance on SSDI and workers’ compensation

One more roadblock that often presents itself when you are working to make disability understandable is the old notion that “Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Workers’ Compensation will take care of me.” While these programs have a place and can serve as support, they will never be the full answer. Here are a few tips and facts you can use with the customer to work around these roadblocks:

  • SSDI has a longer elimination period (upwards of five months)
  • Only 35 percent of initial SSDI applications were approved in 2009
  • SSDI’s definition of disability is more restrictive than many private insurance carriers; a larger array of disabilities are more likely to be covered with carriers
  • Nearly 90 percent of disabilities aren’t work-related and, therefore, don’t qualify for workers’ compensation benefits
  • Workers’ compensation has a fairly low benefit cap, and may not provide full coverage
  • In order to qualify for workers’ compensation, the injury must be verifiable and have happened on the job; disability insurance via a private carrier has the added benefit of being 24-hour coverage

Many workers understand the benefits of insurance such as homeowner’s or car insurance, but neglect to take the step back and look at HOW they are able to pay those premiums. They overlook that, without a paycheck, many of their possessions would be unprotected. Why? Because many just don’t understand disability. It is our job as professionals to educate them, cut through the jargon and speak to the true matter: Would you rather bet on luck to make the mortgage payment, or contribute a small percent of your paycheck and have a guarantee?

Justin Whitley is a senior regional manager in the Employee Benefits division of American United Life Insurance Company, a OneAmerica company. He can be reached at (281) 558-0662 ext. 104 or justin.whitley@oneamerica.com.

For more exclusive benefits coverage, visit ASJ’s Employee Benefits Resource Center.

Past benefits stories from ASJ:

When Selling Employee Benefits to Businesses, Knowledge is Power

Of Budgets and Benefits

Help Employees Meet Their Challenges

Thriving in the Midst of Health Care Reform

How to Diversify and Grow Your Employee Benefit Business