Unum long term disability claims show better outcomes for back disorders

Carl Murphy had long term disability insurance through his employer. The former Marine Corps security guard and 17-year veteran of the trucking industry suffered from chronic back pain caused by years of wear and tear.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (May 2, 2019) – Carl Murphy was sidelined from his 17-year career in the trucking industry after surgery for chronic back pain. He was able to rely on his disability benefits but was unsure of his professional future. In 2018, back disorders – like Murphy’s - were the third leading cause of long term disability, according to data from Unum (NYSE: UNM), the world’s leading provider of disability benefits. 

“I wore myself out after 17 years of bending, lifting and twisting,” Murphy said, whose years of wear and tear caused degenerative discs and problems with his nerves and spine. “I wanted to get back to work. I missed being busy.” 

While short term disability claims for back disorders have remained steady over the last decade, long term disability claims for these conditions have decreased 14 percent. Dr. Edward Alvino, vice president and lead medical director at Unum, partly attributes this to the evolution of treatment. 

“Patients used to be prescribed restricted activity and pain medication,” Alvino said. “Today, the health benefits of an active recovery are clear, and rehabilitation and exercise are critical pieces of a patient’s treatment plan.”

Another key to recovery for people suffering from back disorders and other illnesses or injuries is a transitional return-to-work plan, which allows employees to scale up their work capacity as their condition improves through reduced or flexible hours.

“Many people recovering from disability want to get back to work as soon as possible,” said Marcy Ledford, director of Workforce Solutions at Unum. “But for some conditions, a transitional return-to-work plan and proper workplace accommodations can improve the chances of the employee’s long-term success staying at work.”

When returning to the same job isn’t an option, Unum rehabilitation specialists help people like Murphy return to work in a way that’s best for their future. 
“I realized if I returned to my previous profession, which required a lot of manual labor, it would just be a matter of time before my back gave out again,” Murphy said.  “But my vocational rehabilitation specialist at Unum helped me put my past U.S. Marine Corps experience to use, and now I work full-time overseeing security for one of the area’s leading hospitals.”

The Social Security Administration estimates that one in four of today’s workers will be disabled before they reach retirement. Disability insurance not only provides a financial benefit for people who are ill or injured and can’t work, it also provides support as people recover and return to work. 

Unum tracks the reasons behind disability and shares the results each May, Disability Insurance Awareness Month. Here are the top causes of disability for 2018:

Long term disability:
Cancer                    16%                    
Injury                       13%                                                  
Back disorders              13%
Cardiovascular issues   10%                      
Joint disorders               10%

Short term disability:
Pregnancy        28%                    
Injury (excluding back) 11%                    
Joint disorders                  8%                                         
Cancer              7%
Digestive system   6%

In 2018, Unum in the U.S. received 458,800 new disability claims, paid $3.7 billion in disability benefits, and helped 251,000 people return to work. The company also helped employers save nearly 69,000 lost workdays and $32 million through transitional return-to-work efforts for covered employees.


About Unum Group

Unum (NYSE: UNM), an international provider of workplace benefits and services, has been helping workers and their families for more than 170 years. Through its Unum and Colonial Life brands, the company offers disability, life, accident, critical illness, dental, vision and stop-loss insurance; leave and absence management support and behavioral health services. In 2021, Unum reported revenues of $12.0 billion and paid $8.2 billion in benefits. The Fortune 500 company is one of the 2022 World’s Most Ethical Companies, recognized by Ethisphere®.


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