Employees use disability insurance for joyous occasions as well as unexpected illnesses — and both were cited as the most frequent reasons for DI utilization in 2014.

Pregnancy ranked as the top reason for short-term disability leave and cancer was the leading cause of long-term leave, according to Unum, which had 380,000 new disability claims last year.

Other top STD claims included injury, joint disorders, digestive issues and cancer. Back disorders, injury, cardiovascular and joint issues were among other leading causes of LTD use.

Cancer was also the leading cause of LTD leave among baby boomers, who cited joint disorders as the top reason for short-term leave. Increasing incidence of the latter is reflective of an aging baby boomer generation that is nearing retirement, says Unum spokesperson Mary-Clarke Guenther.

Over the past five years, long-term incidence of joint disorders is up 15% and short-term incidence increased 13%, Unum found. Incidence among long-term musculoskeletal issues surged 24% during that time, with short-term incidence increasing 11%.

The age of beneficiaries has also increased over the past decade. The average age of a short-term disability beneficiary was 44, up from 42 in 2005. Long-term beneficiaries were 51-years-old on average, up from 48.

Pregnancy resulted in the highest use of short-term coverage among the Generation X and Generation Y populations. There was a big discrepancy, however, as pregnancy accounted for 64% of Gen Y STD claims — three and a half times more than Gen X.

Pregnancy was also the leading cause for long-term leave among Gen Y employees while Gen X workers cited back disorders more than anything else.

Raising awareness

Unum’s annual review of its DI claims is intentionally released each May — disability insurance awareness month — to help employers and employees understand the value of this coverage, Guenther says. However, only about one-third of employees have DI, she says.

Many of those who don’t have this coverage could need it. One in four of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled before they reach the age of 67, according to the Social Security Administration.

Also see: Nearly 9 in 10 would buy DI if employer contributed

The word “disability” often conjures images of wheelchair-bound conditions caused by horrific accidents, Guenther says. In reality, illness accounts for about 90% of all disabilities, according to the Council for Disability Awareness.

DI isn’t just to safeguard against catastrophes , Guenther says, it’s used for expected events, like pregnancy, and unexpected accidents, such as falling off of a ladder at home. “It’s really income protection for everyday things that crop up,” she says. 

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