Chad Ipox grinds and polishes a stainless steel tank top at JV Northwest, in Canby, Ore. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The insurers that sell group disability to U.S. employers have clawed their way up to hard-won stability.

Analysts in the South Portland, Maine, office of Gen Re have reported that finding in a summary of results from a survey of 31 insurers in the U.S. benefits market.

Gen Re asked the insurers about mid-year 2011 benefits sales. They also asked about earned premium revenue, or revenue from in-force policies.

Group long-term disability (LTD) sales increased 4% during the first half, to $769 million. That compares with a 21% plunge during the first half of 2010.

Group short-term disability (STD) sales fell 1%, to $369 million, but that represents a rebound from an 8% drop in sales reported for the comparable period in 2010.

Gen Re also charted improvement in the first-half earned premium figures.

Group LTD held steady at $4.9 billion. A year ago, group LTD earned premium was down 2%.

Group STD earned premium improved to a 2% increase, to $1.8 billion, from a 1% decrease.

For the past 2 years, insurers and brokers have talked about seeing stability in the number of employers covered.

This time around, Gen Re has found a 1% in employer counts at group LTD operations, and a 2% increase in employer counts at group STD operations.

Drew King, a senior vice president at Gen Re, said he thinks the latest figures show some evidence of a recovery.

“It remains to be seen if carriers can hold on to this momentum for the remainder of the year,” King said.

In the report, Gen Re analysts noted that insurers had to struggle to scrape up the modest growth they managed to achieve.

“The lagging new sales growth we saw across all products at the mid-year point in 2010 has given way to some limited improvement in the first half of 2011,” the analysts said. But, “for all products, anecdotal evidence suggests that companies continue to struggle with persistency issues and high churn.”