Carol Harnett (Photo: Council for Disability Awareness) Carol Harnett (Photo: Council for Disability Awareness)

This May’s Disability Insurance Awareness Month is a fading memory, but the Council for Disability Awareness (CDA) is still out there trying to get the attention of consumers, and agents.

Carol Harnett, the president of the Portland, Maine-based group, wants people to realize that, as painful as unexpected medical bills not covered by insurance can be, medical bills  themselves rarely push households into bankruptcy.

Most of the time, she says, when people hurt by health problems file for bankruptcy, the main culprit is the loss of income caused by short-term or long-term disability.

Even when workers do have paid sick leave, “sick leave only goes so far,” Harnett said recently in an interview.

(Related: Carol Harnett: Chief U.S. Income Protection Education Officer)

Here’s a link to the research paper Harnett uses to get people thinking about what health problems can do to workers’ ability to collect a paycheck.

Here are three things Harnett said she learned when CDA conducted research recently, using social media interaction analysis and other methods, to see what got consumers’ attention, and when got them taking active steps to protect themselves against the risk of losing the ability to work.

1. Consumers like stories.

CDA found that employers and agents love disability-related statistics.

Employers and agents loved to find out, from CDA, that about 50 million U.S. workers, or about 35% of all U.S. workers, lack either short-term or long-term disability insurance.

Consumers were different.

“Our experience is that consumers don’t pay attention to that,” Harnett said.

Instead, Harnett said, consumers responded to stories about how disability affected real people.

2. Consumers like stories about how disability affected celebrities.

CDA experimented with retweeting, favoriting, and otherwise promoting social media posts posted by celebrities who have dealt with conditions such as depression.

Consumers are interested when they hear about conditions affecting ordinary people, but they seem to be even more interested when conditions affect celebrities they’ve heard about, Harnett said.

“Now it feels like somebody they know,” Harnett said. ”

3. Consumers are more likely to take action as a result of an awareness campaign if they have an easy way to take action.

The disability insurance community in the United Kingdom has organized a highly successful “7 Families” campaign to draw attention to the financial impact of long-term illness and disability.

Organizers arranged for seven families without good disability insurance to get the kinds of benefits and support services good disability insurance might have provided.

One thing that’s helped the campaign have an impact in the real world is intense media interest in the campaign, Harnett said.

Another thing that’s helped is that U.K. insurers tend to offer individual disability insurance policies suitable for applicants with a relatively modest income, Harnett said.

In the United States, where typical individual disability insurance policies are aimed at doctors, lawyers and other highly paid professionals, mass-market consumers who hear about the importance of disability insurance may not know what to do with that knowledge, Harnett said.

— Read Maybe Employers Are Ready to Be Aware of Disability Insuranceon ThinkAdvisor.

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