Cancer Leads Causes of Disability Claims

Survivors of cancer more likely to return to work

By Stephen Miller, CEBS May 10, 2011

For a decade, cancer has been the leading cause of long-term disability claims for Unum, according to 2010 data from the provider of group disability benefits. But as treatments for cancer have become more effective, return-to-work rates for people who are diagnosed with some of the most prevalent cancers have improved.

“Years ago, if you had cancer, you very likely weren’t coming back to work,” said Robert Jacob, a director of health and productivity for Unum. “With advances in treatment and early detection, the questions surrounding cancer and the workplace have evolved.”

Cancer has consistently prompted about 14 percent of Unum’s long-term disability claims over the past decade.

Comparing long-term disability claims from 2001 vs. 2010 (the most recently available cancer-specific data), Unum found that the percentage of those who returned to work rose:

From 47 to 52 percent for those diagnosed with breast cancer.

From 23 to 30 percent for those diagnosed with colon cancer.

From 28 to 30 percent for those diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Moreover, return-to-work rates for people on short-term disability because of breast cancer more than doubled, rising from 28.8 percent to more than 60 percent.

“Most people who have been diagnosed with cancer are very motivated to get back to work,” Jacob said. “It helps to create a sense of normalcy and control at a time when people often feel understandably overwhelmed.”

Other Top Disability Claims

Other leading causes of long-term disability claimsfor Unum in 2010 were:

Back injuries, about 12 percent of claims.

Other injuries, about 9 percent of claims.

Leading causes of short-term disability in 2010 were:

Pregnancy, about 22 percent of claims.

Injuries, about 9 percent of claims.

Digestive disorders, about 7 percent of claims.

Singles Worry About Disability Income

Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of U.S. full-time workers who are primary wage earners and not married say they are "very concerned" about having enough money to pay bills during a period of sudden income loss, according to MetLife’s 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends, based on a survey of U.S. employees during the fourth quarter of 2010.

Despite this concern, however, nearly 60 percent of these single workers have no disability insurance to protect their income in the event an illness or injury prevents them from working.

“More than a third of unmarried men and more than half of unmarried women who are primary wage earners say they live paycheck to paycheck. It is important to plan ahead in case that paycheck stops altogether,” said Clea Barth, vice president of health risk products for MetLife.

Feeling Invincible?

While 65 percent of single, working primary wage earner women admit to being very concerned about their financial security in the event of a disability or serious illness, only 44 percent of single, working men say the same—seeming to indicate that men perceive a potentially disabling illness or injury as less of a realistic risk. However, MetLife's 2010 disability claims data finds that:

10 percent of short-term disability claims approved were for men ages 21 to 30. The average claim duration was 40 days.

22 percent of short-term disability claims approved were for women ages 21 to 30. The average claim duration was 46 days.

5 percent of long-term disability claims approved were for men ages 21 to 30. Top causes among this demographic were fractures, back strain and cancer. For closed claims the average duration was 32 months.

10 percent of the long-term disability claims approved were for women ages 21 to 30. Top causes were pregnancy, depression and back strain. For closed claims the average duration was 21 months.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

After a Disability, a Return-to-Work Advocate Helps, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, March 2011

Return-to-Work Programs: A Foundation for Successful Workforce Management, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, February 2009

Related Resource:

Moving Beyond: Cancer Survivors at Work, Unum Group

Quick Link:

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