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Disability Insurance Observer: Woodshed

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First long-term care insurance (LTCI) went into the insurance industry financial community’s woodshed.

Then the variable annuity issuers (remember variable annuities?) went into the woodshed.

This earnings season, insurers and their securities analysts seem to be taking a mixed approach to deciding whether long-term disability (LTD) operations ought to go into the woodshed to get whacked, or whether the operations ought to simply be given chicken soup and nursed along until Ben Bernanke and the other members of the Federal Reserve Board stop pumping them full of low-interest rate bubonic plague.

Some companies have still been reporting increases in LTD sales or LTD premium revenue, or both.

Principal Financial Group Inc. (NYSE:PFG) is an example of a company that  has been pleased with disability results.

Executives at Hartford Financial Group Inc. (NYSE:HIG) sounded during their earnings call as if they had no patience with layabout group LTD customers whatsoever, and the boasted about firing the biggest, worst offenders.

Executives at StanCorp Financial Group Inc. (NYSE:SFG) and Unum Group Corp. (NYSE:UNM) acknowledged that LTD is suffering from low interest rates and weak employment growth but seemed to be resigned muddling through till conditions improve.

Some of the other companies that have come out with results since then seem to be more inclined to spank than to nurse.

Prudential Financial Inc. (NYSE:PRU) let new group disability sales fall to $7 million, from $20 million, and group disability premium revenue fall to $228 million, from $243 million.

The actions Prudential is taking to address poor group insurance performance “include enhancements to claims management, pricing discipline on new business, and repricing of cases that are up for renewal,” Mark Grier, the vice chairman, said during the company’s earnings call.

Prudential increased premiums for about one-third to midsize and large group disability cases from February 2012 through Jan. 1, 2013, Grier said.

The average increase has been “in the low double digits,” Grier said.

Over at Assurant Inc. (NYSE:AIZ), Assurant Employee Benefits, the unit that sells disability insurance and other products, reported$7.5 million in new group disability sales on $100 million in net earned premiums and fees, compared with $6.3 million in sales on $110 million in premiums and fees for the comparable quarter in 2011.

The company noted in its earnings release that benefits unit revenue fell partly because of the loss of two 

Mark Peninger, Assurant’s CFO, said, in relatively neutral, clinical wording, that the company had cut the discount rate it uses to value new LTD claims to 4.25 percent, from 4.75 percent.

The change will lower benefits unit earnings by $4 million, Peninger said.

“To partially offset these pressures, benefits continues to closely manage its’ expenses and capital,” Peninger said.

Lincoln National Corp. (NYSE:LNC) saw group disability sales increase to $97 million, from $93 million, and its group disability loss ratio increase to 77.9 percent, from 69.6 percent.

Higher LTD claims offset the effects of higher prices, the company said.

Randal Freitag said during the Lincoln earnings call that the increase in disability loss ratios “has been driven by an increase in severity focused in our higher salary bands.”

Dennis Glass, the chief executive officer, said the higher claims are coming from insureds earning more than $56,000.

“It’s just something we’ve never seen before,” Glass said. “It’s hard to figure out.”

Lincoln managed to increase LTD sales in spite of the weak economy because it’s increased the number of brokers selling the products, Glass said.

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