Tracie Foster is one of the disability insurance industry executives who have been trying to think of what to say about the market during the 2016 Disability Insurance Awareness Month (DIAM) campaign.

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Foster, director of life and disability product development at Anthem Inc. (NYSE:ANTM), says the large-group market looks about the same as it has in recent years. Tracie Foster

“You have to be a bit more knowledgeable” about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), Foster said during a recent DIAM interview. 

On the small-group side, “The disability market is a little challenging,” she said.

PPACA is still distracting small and midsize employers, she said.

But Foster is seeing a little growth in interest in short-term disability (STD) insurance, and, even though she sees the disability market conditions as challenging, she sees them as less extremely challenging as conditions in the major medical market.

In the disability market, insurers and producers can still focus on struggling to put one foot in front of another, one heavy step at a time, without worrying about a whirlwind transporting them to another insurance planet.

For a look some of what Foster is seeing in the less-upheaval zone, read on. 

Electronic shoppers

1. She has not yet seen the private exchange channel take off. 

Anthem has been a big player in both the PPACA public exchange system and many private health insurance exchange systems.

So far, exchanges seem to work better for major medical products, and better for dental insurance than for disability insurance or life insurance, Foster said.

In the disability market, she sees Anthem doing business with the same number and types of brokers and other distributors. Some have set up private exchanges, or are using other companies’ exchange systems, but she believes employers continue to rely heavily on traditional brick-and-mortar benefits advisors.

“Employers still need that help,” Foster said.

See also: Carriers to promote voluntary products on private exchanges

Workers at a meeting

2. She has not yet seen the voluntary channel produce big enrollment numbers.

Some insurers have talked about some employers replacing employer-paid group disability coverage with voluntary employee-paid group products, or individual products sold at the worksite.

Insurers really are starting to see an uptick in sales of voluntary plans, after years of hoping for the uptick, Foster said.

But she said one little-mentioned challenge is the voluntary program participation levels have stagnated.

“Which is a little scary, in terms of employees having adequate financial protection,” Foster said.

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A nurse on the phone

3. She sees care management programs having a noticeable effect on disability claim incidence. 

Providing ironclad proof that wellness programs, condition management programs and programs that integrate health insurance, absence management and disability insurance really reduce the risk of disability is difficult.

But Foster said she sees employers that adopt care coordination and integration programs doing substantially better than other employers in terms of claim incidence, time and time again.

At employers that have both Anthem group health coverage and Anthem STD plans, the incidence of STD claims other than maternity claims is just 2.5 percent, compared with 4.3 percent at employers that have Anthem STD plans without Anthem group coverage, Foster said.

“There’s something there,” Foster said.

See also: Which STD claims turn into LTD claims?