Carol Harnett says the disability insurance community needs to use stories to get consumers’ attention — and use that attention to explain important benefits market trends. Just a few years ago, about 40 percent of workers had employer-paid group disability coverage, Harnett said.
Today, she said, many employers are shifting to voluntary, employee-paid disability benefits. Someone needs to make sure consumers realize that shift has taken place, Harnett said.
“Our primary target is the consumer,” Harnett said. Harnett has been active in the disability insurance market for years as an executive at Prudential and later at Hartford.
The Council for Disability Awareness (CDA) — a group that tries to educate consumers about the risk of disability and the need for income protection planning — recently named her to succeed Barry Lundquist as its president.
Harnett has always been athletic, and she started out as a physiologist working with athletes and others who needed help coping with the effects of injuries and illnesses.
Over the years, she has gotten small first-hand brushes with disability. She has suffered two serious mountain biking accidents, including one that broke her collar bone.
A few years ago, she had to deal with a very early stage melanoma. Thanks to employers who could let her work from home and provide accommodations at the office, she never missed more than a day of work. But she said she was also conscious of how important having access to good income protection benefits was.
“I didn’t expect to” have a personnel connection with disability, “as most of us don’t,” she said. One lesson has been the importance of telling people about the risk of disability, Harnett said.
Another lesson, she said, has been the importance of telling people about all the different types of situations that the term “disability” could encompass.
When people hear the word “disability,” “most people immediately think of a catastrophe,” Harnett said. “Disability is much broader than that.”
The CDA will be continuing the organization’s efforts to conduct consumer surveys and reach out to consumers through websites such as DefendYourIncome.org and DisabilityCanHappen.org. Harnett also wants to expand the CDA’s use of Web videos about people who have had to face disability in their own lives.
Today, for example, the CDA offers consumers a video about Monica, a 37-year-old woman who let her disability insurance coverage lapse at what turned out to be the worst possible time.
Still another strategy will be to pierce the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) implementation haze still shrouding many insurance agents and brokers. ”They’re another audience for us,” Harnett said.