Ten-year review of disability claims shows trends in workplace absences

Life Lessons

Ten-year review of disability claims shows trends in workplace absences

A 10-year review of disability claims shows the effects of an aging workforce, medical advances and the power of early intervention, according to data from Unum, a leading provider of disability benefits. Unum tracks reasons behind workplace absence in its disability data and shares results each May during Disability Insurance Awareness Month.

Key findings include:

  • Short and long term disability claims for joint disorders and musculoskeletal issues have increased significantly.
  • Cancer has stayed the No. 1 reason for long term disability claims, representing 17% of claims.
  • Pregnancy continues to top the list of short term disability claims, at 28%. The percentage of Unum’s short term disability behavioral health claims that transition to long term is down 15%, the result of a dedicated behavioral health program implemented at Unum.
  • Long term disability claims for complicated pregnancies have decreased 47%.

“As people work longer and later in life, we’re seeing the effects of an aging workforce,” said Greg Breter, senior vice president of Benefits at Unum. “The spike in joint disorders and musculoskeletal issues is especially prominent among Baby Boomers, who make up over half of all long term disability claims.”

In addition, higher obesity rates and stress among workers can cause or aggravate other health conditions, like heart disease and musculoskeletal issues, Breter said.

There’s good news, too, though. Advances in medical treatment, lower C-section rates and more resources for new moms are leading to fewer complicated pregnancies. And, Unum’s dedicated early intervention and preventative strategies for behavioral health claims mean more people are able to get to back work sooner.

Unum received more than 424,500 new disability claims in 2017 and paid $3.8 billion in disability benefits. Here are the top causes of disability for 2017:

Long term disability:

  • Cancer: 17%
  • Back disorders: 13%
  • Injury: 12%
  • Cardiovascular: 9%
  • Joint disorders: 9%

Short term disability:

  • Pregnancy: 28%
  • Injury (excluding back): 11%
  • Joint disorders: 8%
  • Digestive system: 7%
  • Cancer: 7%

A lengthy and unexpected absence from work can have serious financial consequences as well. One in four U.S. workers has less than $1,000 in savings, and more than half of households would struggle to recover from an unexpected $2,000 expense, according to a 2017 GoBankingRates study.

Chriseta Gaskin, a 61-year-old personal banker, said, “The normal wear and tear of doing my job over the years took its toll, and my knees went bone to bone.” Gaskin used Unum disability coverage to protect her from significant income loss during absence for knee replacement surgery, recovery, and return to work. “My disability benefits check was direct deposited regularly, so I always had money to pay the bills. It was nice to not worry about expenses.”

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