Health insurance laws and regulations have been monopolizing benefits seller and buyer mind share in recent months.

The people who sell disability insurance and related products and services are trying to remind everyone that acute health care costs are not the only health-related costs that the United States has to control.

Reducing the effects of injuries, sickness and disability on workers’ ability to work and employers’ ability to maximize productivity is also critical, disability specialists say.

Gregory Poulakos, a senior vice president at the UnitedHealthcare unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH),   talked about the need to do more to integrate health and disability management during a recent interview conducted via e-mail.

Poulakos cited a recent report from the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) showing a strong connection between any case of an employee taking federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave and later use of disability benefits.

UnitedHealthcare would, of course, like to see employer groups combine its health insurance with its short-term disability (STD) and long-term disability (LTD) insurance programs.

At an employer with an integrated medical-disability program, or some other way for the medical and disability plans to communicate, use of FMLA leave “can serve as an ‘early warning’ system to alert employers about an FMLA leave that could eventually turn into a short-term or long-term disability claim,” Poulakos said.

In addition to looking into giving employees who have taken FMLA leave extra attention and support, employers should have ways to do the same for employees who face other complicating issues, such as cases in which the employees has untreated depression or is acting as the primary caregiver for an elderly parent, Poulakos said.

Those kinds of details “are often more difficult to recognize,” Poulakos said. “But the presence of these subjective measures is often a harbinger of an extended disability claim, so it is important for employers and their carriers to recognize them.”

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