Integrate Disability, Health Programs To Save Costs: CIGNA

March 15, 2004 ( - CIGNA is giving plan sponsors an idea on how to lower the company's total benefit costs and help disabled employees get back to work sooner: integrate disability with health-care programs.

Disability durations were 12% shorter – on average, a difference of seven days – and return-to-work rates were 6% higher for those individuals who had short-term disability (STD) and health-care coverage, compared to those who did not have the medical connection. To put a dollar figure on it, shorter duration and better return-to-work can equal between $100,000 and $200,000 in direct disability cost savings per year for an employer with 3,000 staffers, according to a news release.

Much of the savings are realized in preventative measures that come with integrating the two programs. CIGNA found 26% of medical episodes leading to a disability stem from chronic health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, and low back pain and these issues account for more than half (56%) of STD-related medical costs. However, if such issues are treated and managed better, the down time can be significantly reduced, if not eliminated altogether.

“For example, patients with severe diabetes need preventative care. If they don’t receive proper preventative care, they are more likely to suffer loss of a limb. This contributes to disability that could be avoided through programs that help patients better manage their diabetes,” explained Dr. Allen Schaffer, chief medical officer for CIGNA HealthCare, in the release.

Additionally, CIGNA found 45% of depression expenses stem from individuals who suffer from other disabilities like low back pain or heart disease. If companies can keep employees from becoming disabled, there is a greater likelihood of reducing these costs.

By keeping workers off of disability, employers also reduce productivity losses and follow-up medical check-up costs. CIGNA found employees might continue with medical treatments such as examinations, additional tests, or physical therapy for up to 25 days after they return to work. Further, an employee back at work but still in need of limited medical treatment may have special needs.

In fact, CIGNA believes that integrating disability with health-care programs is such a great idea, the firm announced it is lowering the prices on disability benefits purchased with CIGNA medical coverage. Discounts of 3% to 7% will be offered on STD and long-term disability (LTD) coverages sold in combination with CIGNA medical coverage.

“If we can assist employees with conditions most likely to cause repeat disability, like those with back problems or heart disease or diabetes, we can help employers and employees prevent lost time from work and manage overall benefits costs,” Jay Menario, president of marketing for CIGNA Group Insurance said in a news release.

The study looked at a total of 60,000 STD claims and compared the results of those insureds that were covered by CIGNA STD and CIGNA medical care to those insureds that were covered by CIGNA STD and a different health care provider. For a summary report of the study’s findings, contact; (215) 761-4758 or; (763) 559-5587.