Benefits in the time of COVID-19 with Carol Harnett

Laura Cave
March 29, 2021

In this episode, our guest is industry veteran, speaker, and trendspotter, Carol Harnett. Carol was the National Disability and Life Practice Leader at The Hartford and has been a trusted consultant and advisor for multiple organizations and industry leaders. Today she’s the President of the Council for Disability Awareness (CDA). In this wide-ranging interview, we dig into the latest CDA research to uncover how COVID-19 has impacted today’s working Americans and how benefits should evolve to address those needs. Here are the highlights from our conversation. 

How to manage change in a risk averse industry

Change is necessary for growth, but it can be really tough for people to navigate! Insurance is a fiscally conservative industry (for good reasons), so it’s especially challenging for the insurance industry to embrace new strategies and  innovation. But given how much has changed in the last year, It’s vital for everyone from carriers to employers to evolve benefit offerings to meet employees’ changing needs. 

So how do you make change happen in a slow-moving, risk-averse industry? 

As a forward-thinking optimist, Carol was always excited about change. However, she learned early in her career that it was important to temper her message in order to meet people where they were. Often people aren’t prepared to hear a radical new strategy, but rather than give up, Carol learned how to build a bridge between what her listeners already understood and the new opportunities on the horizon. People can often handle a stretch but not a leap.

“Change is one thing we can count on to happen in life, but it’s also the thing that so many people are afraid to do...I can think of a number of times in my career when I took what felt like a heavy risk but I thought, hey, this is what you’re hired for. If you stop doing what you think is important for the company and the audiences and customers they serve then you’re not doing your job.” 

How COVID-19 will affect employee benefits in 2021 and beyond

The CDA has been doing research and reporting on the effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. A few trends point toward a dramatic increase in healthcare, disability, and life insurance utilization in the years ahead. 

First, the data showed a huge increase in the need for mental healthcare. According to data sourced by the federal government’s Household Pulse Survey, 40% of workers reported experiencing anxiety and depression, compared to 10% prior to the pandemic. An article the CDA published in partnership with MDGuidelines is available here.  

Second, many people reported postponing healthcare, including preventive screenings. Delayed care means that some people aren’t getting care they need, which could require costly interventions down the road. Fewer preventive screenings are leading to a situation where cancer diagnoses, for example, appear to be down, but it may be that cancer simply isn’t being caught and will show up later in more advanced phases. 

Lastly, research shows that 10% of people who’ve had COVID-19, even if they were asymptomatic, are experiencing long term health problems tied to the disease. We don’t know yet how big of an impact this will have in the short-, medium-, and long-term on health, disability, and life insurance benefits. A summary of their research findings can be found here

Listen to the full episode to hear more from Carol. 

Carol’s resources

Carol often finds herself reading whitepapers and academic research to keep a pulse on factors that will impact the benefits space before it hits the news or shows up in books. She mentioned this study in the episode, and (as an independent herself), she advises readers to look past the partisan frame to glean the lessons revealed in the data. As far as her bookshelf, Carol points to Blue Ocean Strategy as a title that had a big impact and still resonates with her. 

You can check out Carol’s work with the Council for Disability Awareness on their website at They publish research articles here first.  Note, this episode is for informational and educational purposes only. Carol Harnett and the Council for Disability Awareness are not endorsed, affiliated with, nor compensated by Greenhouse Life Insurance Company.

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