Integrated Disability Management

Integrated Programs Pay Off When Employees Come First

Obtaining the best results from integrated disability programs requires making the injured or disabled worker the top priority.
By: | August 28, 2015

Employers that place equal importance on managing all disability claims — regardless of whether their cause is occupational or non-occupational — experience better return-to-work outcomes, said a senior workers’ compensation manager who evaluated practices at nine companies.

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Yet she has often heard employers that fully insure their long term disability claims say they don’t pay equal attention to those claims as they do when disabilities are work-related, said Catherine Duhigg Gannon, senior manager of workers’ comp at Eaton, a company with about 100,000 employees including 37,000 across North America.

Such thinking hurts employee relations and diminishes all return to work efforts.

“Focus on disability and return to work should not cease when the perceived cost to the employer decreases,” Duhigg Gannon said. “By that I mean long-term disability plans that were insured and had no [employer] oversight oftentimes resulted in the employee not returning to work. It was amazing how many people basically said, ‘We are not paying for it, so we stopped caring.’ ”

Duhigg Gannon presented her comments as part of a panel that addressed program integration during the recently concluded Worker’s Compensation Institute’s annual conference. She evaluated the practices at nine companies as part of a strategic assessment conducted every five years to help set the future path for her own company’s workers’ comp and disability management efforts.

Care of employees should be the first priority of integrated programs, said Chris Mandel, senior VP strategic solutions at Sedgwick Claims Management Services.

Integrated programs focus on combining the oversight of claims that are often separately managed by corporate risk management or benefits management domains. The claims can include those generated under the Family Medical Leave Act administration, short-term disability, long-term disability or workers’ comp.

“It was amazing how many people basically said, ‘We are not paying for it, so we stopped caring.’ ” — Catherine Duhigg Gannon, senior manager of workers’ comp, Eaton

“Employee care needs to be the first priority,” Mandel said. “We are after outcomes that benefit the employee most.”

The benefits of integration include aligned communications, a single contact for the intake of claims, better handling of data, and improved coordination of specialty case management that supports all causes of work absences, he said.

Other advantages include unified return-to-work planning, unified case management, and the improved communication of benefits, Mandel continued.

“But again, all of that for the benefit of helping employees navigate what could be rather bureaucratic and complex processes that often don’t touch each other, let alone talk and communicate effectively together,” he added.

Eaton has an “integrated disability platform” with the third party administrator handling workers’ comp, STD and LTD claims among others, Duhigg Gannon said. That helps provide continuity in the way the company views all disability claims.

Internally, however, Eaton’s insurance and risk management department oversees workers’ comp while the benefits department manages STD and LTD claims.

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A recommendation has been made to Eaton’s senior management that a single, internal department managing all disabilities would be more effective.

“The best return to work outcomes were demonstrated when programs treated all disability claims the same, occupational versus non occupational and efforts to return an employee to gainful employment was equally invested in all disability claims,” Duhigg Gannon’s assessment found.

Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]