Try to remember — you used to think about something other than federal major medical mandates.

Businesses are facing a big decision about health care reform: Whether to offer medical coverage, or pay the fine and direct their employees to the exchanges.

It is a big decision. But here’s a challenge: Think bigger.

Employee benefits have rarely been as widely discussed and considered as they are today, in this era of reform. And as medical insurance changes and becomes available outside of work  and employees shoulder an increasing share of health-coverage risk  other workplace benefits are becoming more important.

Employers have the opportunity − and responsibility − to address the financial risks their employees face in this new environment, from life-altering events such as death, long-term disability and critical illness to significant events such as short-term disability.

Now’s the time to think through benefits strategies more broadly, to offer a complete, well-rounded benefits package that offers protection for whatever life brings. The benefit to put at the top of the list? Disability insurance.

The case for disability income protection is compelling:

  • Three-quarters of workers today said in a CareerBuilder.com survey that they always or sometimes live paycheck-to-paycheck;
  • Half of all households could not raise $2,000 within a month if they needed to; and
  • The Social Security Administration estimates that just over one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67.

Research from the Consumer Federation of America and Unum sends a strong message: Employees want this coverage, and they’re even willing to pay for it.

  • Nine out of 10 of workers think all employers should offer disability insurance;
  • 56 percent said they would pay all of the $30 monthly premiums to gain income protection, and 86 percent said they would pay half the cost; and
  • 85 percent of disability beneficiaries agreed that employers should automatically enroll new employees in disability insurance, allowing them to opt out of this coverage if they do not want it.

Expanding the availability of disability insurance is a win-win goal. Group disability benefits are available now with a wide range of funding options  from affordable employer-pay-all plans, to blended funding arrangements, to voluntary options that won’t cost employers a dime.

So stay focused on the bigger picture. Medical is the major driver of benefits decisions, but make sure you evaluate the full financial needs of employees and the gaps in coverage that exist and are growing.

Nearly 70 percent of our working population  about 75 million people  does not have access to disability insurance at work. That’s 75 million reasons why we have a Disability Insurance Awareness Month in May to focus on the need for expanding this coverage.

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