Americans’ Real Risk of Disability

According to a new study, Americans are slightly less likely to suffer a long-term disability than they were in the 1970s and 1980s, yet those who become disabled will likely stay disabled for a longer period of time.  This is one of the main findings from a study released in May 2007 by the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE) entitled, “The Real Risk of Disability in the United States.”  The research, conducted by the global consulting firm Milliman Inc., was designed to provide insights into disability risks based on gender, age, occupation and disability type.

To portray an accurate picture of the risks associated with long-term disabilities in the U.S., the researchers studied information gathered by the Individual Disability Experience Committee of the Society of Actuaries, which analyzed individual disability income policies during the 1990s. This data was compared to the 1985 Commissioner’s Individual Disability A table, which was based on data from the 1970s and early 1980s.

Diagnose This

The LIFE study found that the probability of a white-collar worker between the ages of 35 and 65 becoming disabled for 90 days or longer is 27 percent for men and 31 percent for women. This compares to 29 percent for men and 34 percent for women in the 1970s and 1980s. While the potential for becoming disabled has decreased slightly, the duration of disabilities has increased significantly.

The researchers analyzed data for the top ten diagnosis groupings: cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, cancer, mental, back, alcohol/drugs, nervous, other injury and AIDS. What they discovered is that the breakdown of the conditions causing claims was not only age, but also gender specific. For men between 30-39 years old, musculoskeletal conditions are most prominent. Among women ages 30-39, disabilities due to complications of pregnancy are the most significant claim type. When men reach ages 40-49, cardiovascular problems become the predominant cause of disability claims, while women in this age group suffered primarily from cancer. Between the ages of 50-59, the majority of disability claims filed for both men and women were for cardiovascular conditions. However, women in this age group continued to show a significant number of claims arising from cancer.

I didn’t Know That

Another interesting fact to emerge from the study was that women face an overall greater risk of disability than men across all age groups. Except for AIDS claims in all age groups and cardiovascular claims from 50-59, female incidences for each of the diagnosis groupings were significantly greater than male incidences.

The researchers noted that with most workers not financially prepared to pay for a long-term disability out-of-pocket, they need to realize how common disabilities are and plan accordingly by purchasing individual disability insurance if they lack sufficient coverage through their employer.