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Integrating workers compensation, short-term and long-term disability programs, while still on employers' minds, is not a growing trend, according to the preliminary findings of a new survey.

Only 35% of 349 companies recently surveyed said they had integrated disability programs in place or planned to have one in place within the next year. This remains unchanged from last year, when 35% of the 241 respondents answered accordingly (BI, Oct. 28, 1996).

Respondents site the lack of benchmarking data and lack of interdepartmental coordination as obstacles in coordinating and managing disability programs.

The results are included in preliminary findings of the second annual survey on disability management conducted by the Washington Business Group on Health and Watson Wyatt Worldwide. The full report will be available in December.

Integrated disability management coordinates workers compensation, short-term and long-term disability and related programs to reduce costs and simplify administration.

The approach emphasizes prevention, rehabilitation, education and return-to-work programs.

According to the findings, employers continue to work hard at managing their workers compensation programs but are less diligent when it comes to their non-occupational disability programs.

For example, 79% of the surveyed employers said they have transitional duty programs in place for on-the-job injured workers, while only 45% have such a program for workers hurt outside the workplace. Also, while 47% of the surveyed employers track return-to-work results from occupational injuries, only 19% do so for non-occupational injuries.

"People are just now starting to focus on the non-occupational side" of disabilities, said Karen Kissam, senior consultant for Watson Wyatt Worldwide in Washington. "They have spent so much time on the medical side, they are now only starting to focus on the disability side."

She said she expects it to take a couple more years before the trend really takes hold with employers.

"It is definitely on everyone's radar screen," she said.

Also in the report, surveyed employers identified several best practices that help manage occupational and non-occupational disability plans.

Those best practices tools-including performance standards for vendors, modified return-to-work programs and disability case management-lower disability costs, the survey said.

As a percentage of payroll, total direct disability costs for non-occupational incidents drops to 1.7% from 3.4% when more than seven tools are implemented, the survey said.

For more information on the upcoming report, "Staying at Work: Improving Productivity through Integrated Disability Management," contact Andrew Sandor at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, 800-243-1349.