Insurers accused of ignoring calls to address discrimination

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The life insurance industry has been charged by mental health groups with turning a deaf ear to calls to end discrimination, and of engaging in unethical and potentially unlawful treatment of people with mental health conditions, it has been reported.
 
In submissions to a life insurance parliamentary inquiry, beyondblue and Mental Health Australia, long-time advocates against insurance discrimination, said the industry’s exclusions of people with mental health symptoms was discriminatory and not based on any assessment of an individual’s condition, The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reported.
 
“It is unethical, and potentially unlawful, for life insurers to offer policies with broad, blanket exclusions for any type of mental health condition in the absence of robust actuarial and statistical data,” said Frank Quinlan, Mental Health Australia chief executive.
 
Georgie Harman, Beyondblue chief executive, said the group’s efforts in tackling the issue with the insurance industry since 2002 had made very little progress, citing the exclusion of mental health standards in the Financial Services Council’s “Code of Practice” as one of its failures, the report said.
 
“Despite all efforts over many years we continue to hear negative experiences of the insurance industry from everyday Australians affected by depression and anxiety,” she wrote.
 
“And we continue to hear the same, often contradictory, reasons from the industry in reply.”
 
Quinlan echoed the sentiment, saying their group’s decade-long efforts had “limited impact.”
 
“Insurers continue to make spurious use of health information to justify refusing insurance or rejecting claims,” he said. “This highlights the need now for more rigorous reform and oversight of the industry by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and other relevant agencies.”
 
Harman said the industry employs a “one size fits all” approach in assessing mental illness that was both unfair and harmful.
 
“In addition to infringing on people’s access to insurance products, it creates a ripple effect of reinforcing self and community stigma,” she said.
 
A test case for mental health discrimination involved Melbourne University student Ella Ingram, who was denied her claim for a cancelled trip by QBE due to what was described as a blanket exclusion of mental illness. In December last year, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled that the company had unlawfully discriminated against Ingram based on her disability.
 
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