By MATTHEW BRODSKY, senior editor/Web editor of Risk & Insurance®
The latest data from a leading disability insurer shows a trend that goes against what's expected when people are diagnosed with cancer. More people are coming back to work after suffering from and getting treatment for breast cancer.
Nearly six in 10 people (59.4 percent) on the short-term disability rolls of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Unum returned to work in 2007. That's nearly twice the percentage from 2001, when 28.8 percent returned to work.
Breast cancer survivors on Unum long-term disability also saw an increase, albeit more modest, during this period, with 53.6 percent returning to work in 2007 versus 47 percent in 2001. The 2007 data are the latest available.
"Higher return-to-work rates are primarily driven by improvements in detection and treatment," said Cheryl Greaney, vice president of Benefit Operations at Unum.
That holds true for other types of cancers, not just breast. But particularly for cancers of the prostate and breast, significant advancements have been made in early detection, said Greaney. Plus, surgeries have become less invasive, chemo therapy less toxic.
"So patients are more apt, more able, to return to their daily routines, and this includes their jobs," Greaney said.
Which is a good thing. As anyone in the workers' comp and disability management business knows, being back at work can be therapeutic in itself, particularly if a worker sees her job as a rewarding part of their normal life routine.
"We see time and again that ill or injured employees see work as part of their healing process," Greaney said.
To that end, employers can facilitate the return-to-work process for cancer survivors through accommodation and transition work schedules, she advised.
Employers should also provide the "strong benefits" that can help employees prevent illness, detect it at early stages, and overcome and heal should they be afflicted. Of course, this is easier said than done for many employers with today's economic downturn and regulatory uncertainty.
In Unum's book of business, cancer as a whole has been the No. 1 reason for long-term disability claims nine years running. Breast cancer is the leading cause of long-term disability cancer claims, responsible for almost one in four cases. For short-term disability, cancer overall makes up 6 percent of the claims volume. One in five of those STD claims is related to cancers of the breast.
Said one source familiar with disability insurance, typically disability insurers handle cancer claims differently from most other causes of disability.
November 2, 2010
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