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Cancer, pregnancy continue to lead disability causes for Unum

For more than a decade, cancer, pregnancy and back disorders have been the top causes of disability claims for Unum (NYSE: UNM), the leading provider of disability benefits.

That trend continued in 2011, but new research reveals that most employees think injuries cause the most missed work, pointing to a fundamental misunderstanding of what events are most likely to lead to disability.

“The kinds of circumstances that affect nearly all of us, whether directly or indirectly, are the most common causes of absence from work,” said Diane Garofalo, senior vice president of the Benefits Center at Unum. “Most people believe that injuries and work-related events drive disability, but the truth is far different.”

According to the Council for Disability Awareness, 90 percent of all disability claims paid are for common illnesses and health conditions. And Unum’s data also reflects that reality. In 2011, injuries prompted only 10 percent of Unum’s long term disability claims and 11 percent of short term disability claims.

In 2011, Unum’s leading causes of long term disability claims were:

  • Cancer (15%)
  • Back disorders (excluding injury) (14.6%)
  • Injuries (10.4%)
  • Behavioral health issues (10.1%)
  • Circulatory system disorders (9.3%)
  • Joint disorders (8.5%)

The leading causes of short term disability were:

  • Normal pregnancy (18.9%)
  • Injuries (10.9%)
  • Complications from pregnancy (8.8%)
  • Digestive disorders (8%)
  • Back disorders (7%)
  • Cancer (6.6%)

The Consumer Federation of America and Unum recently worked together on a survey of a nationally representative sample of nearly 1,200 employees about group disability insurance. The survey revealed that employees are far more likely to believe that injuries (66%), rather than illnesses (34%), cause the majority of disabilities that keep employees from work for at least three months.

Most employees also recognize that they do not understand group disability insurance. Only 13 percent said they know “a lot” about this insurance, while more than one-third (35%) said they know only “a little,” and more than half (52%) said they know "not very much" or “nothing at all.”

Despite their lack of knowledge about employer-provided disability insurance, almost all employees recognize the importance of this insurance and desire its coverage:

  • 90 percent think employers should make this insurance available to their employees
  • 88 percent think is it is important for them personally to be covered
  • 61 percent say this coverage is “very important”

"The ability to earn a living – our income – is the most valuable asset we have, and protecting that asset is increasingly important,” said Thomas R. Watjen, president and CEO of Unum, during a teleconference about this research.

“A disabling illness or injury can cause real financial hardship for many individuals and their families, and disability insurance creates a backstop against significant income loss during the period of absence, recovery and return to work.”

About Unum

Unum ( is one of the leading providers of employee benefits products and services in the United States and the United Kingdom. Through its subsidiaries, Unum Group paid more than $6 billion in total benefits to customers in 2011.

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