The odds of a sustaining a long-term injury are better than you might think. Well, worse is probably more accurate.  According to the Council for Disability Awareness, one in eight workers will be disabled for at least five years during their careers — that’s nearly 40 times more likely than losing your luggage on a domestic flight.

Yet, the number of employees with long-term disability insurance dropped to 32.1 million last year, a 1.5% decline, despite slight increases in the number of employers offering LTD plans over the past two years. More than 214,000 employers offered long-term disability in 2013, the CDA said in its 2014 long-term disability claims review, which included data from 19 companies.

“The decline in insured individuals may reflect the trend toward more disability plans offered on a voluntary basis, in which not all eligible employees participate,” the study said.

Traditionally, employers have provided disability insurance to their employees, but that has changed over the past decade, says Kathy Plummer, Unum’s director of product development. Due to rising costs of medical insurance, she says, employees now pay for part, or all, of their disability.

It’s well worth the price, says Kevin Krzeminski, senior vice president at Liberty Mutual. “It’s just such a fundamentally important benefit,” he says, adding that without long-term disability coverage a person is susceptible to potential financial ruin.

Disconnect

However, the CDA says, a majority of people think otherwise. Sixty-four percent of workers estimate their chance of being disabled for three months or more at just 2% — the odds are actually one in four, the CDA says. The challenge is conveying that message to employees, Krzeminski says. “It’s not a product that’s bought, it’s a product that has to be sold,” he says.

To do that, ensuring consumers understand their coverage is essential, Krzeminski says. Plummer agrees, and says to avoid overloading people with too many choices — the terminology is foreign to most employees, who are likely enrolling in other benefits at the same time.

“It can get overwhelming pretty quickly,” she says. “Keep it as simple as possible.”

Multiple options are important, Plummer says, but suggests limiting it to three plans — high, medium and low. That type of flexibility will be featured in Unum’s new short-term and long-term products, which are slated for release later this month just in time for open enrollment. 

Enrolling younger employees is another critical piece to increasing the number of workers with disability coverage, Krzeminski says.

Employees are savvier now, Plummer says, and expect a certain level of benefits. “Those are as important as the employer that they’re working for,” she says, so choosing a carrier that values education is crucial. “The more they understand their benefits … they’re happier in their work environment,” she says. “It all ties back to the employer-employee relationship.”

More is expected of brokers, too, Krzeminski says, as employers look to them for help navigating today’s insurance market. “(Their clients) need more expertise, they need more information, they need more consultation,” he says.

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