Push to end discrimination in the insurance industry, August 2013

beyondblue and the Mental Health Council of Australia are stepping up their campaign to end practices in the Australian insurance industry that may discriminate against people with a mental illness. The organisations are urging more potential victims of discrimination to come forward, share their stories and participate in the move to redress this issue.

beyondblue CEO Kate Carnell AO said Australians with an experience of mental illness are regularly denied insurance cover, forced to pay higher premiums or have their claim rejected because of their illness.

Current practices within the insurance industry mean:

  • People with a history of a particular type of mental illness are sometimes refused insurance that would cover another type of mental illness in a way that would be unacceptable for people with a physical illness
  • People with a history of mental illness are sometimes refused income protection coverage despite never having taken a day off work due to their illness and having a doctor’s statement that their illness will not affect their work
  • Some insurers have been known to attribute a mental illness to a person despite there being no official diagnosis from a health professional.

Ms Carnell said beyondblue and the Mental Health Council of Australia are calling for people who believe they have experienced discrimination to come forward to help end the injustice.

“We want to hear your stories and find out how insurance companies are potentially discriminating against people with history of a mental health condition,” she said “We hope that the momentum created by people coming forward will help place pressure on insurance companies to take notice and change their policies and practices .

“In addition, beyondblue and the Mental Health Council of Australia will refer consumers who believe they are experiencing unlawful discrimination by insurers to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) for legal advice.”

Under current legislation, insurance companies can discriminate against someone with a disability, including a mental illness, if certain conditions are met. To be legal, it must be reasonably based on relevant data or other relevant factors, such as a medical opinion.

However, beyondblue and the Mental Health Council of Australia regularly hear stories that indicate insurance companies may not be reasonably basing their decisions on relevant data or factors when they refuse cover, deny claims or increase premiums for people who disclose a mental illness.

Mental Health Council of Australia CEO Frank Quinlan said the practice was unacceptable.

“It is hard to imagine someone with, for example, a history of stomach trouble being refused cover for a broken leg,” he said. “But this sort or discrimination can be routine for people with a mental illness. We know of people who have received short term professional support following a traumatic personal experience who years later are denied certain types of cover, under a mental health clause. We know of other cases where people are refused insurance despite effective management of their condition, and therefore not posing an unacceptable risk to the insurance company. We believe these practices should change.”

PIAC will provide legal advice and representation where appropriate to consumers who, on the basis of their mental illness, may have experienced unlawful discrimination by insurers. Depending on the nature of the matter, PIAC will provide one off advice to a person, on-going ad hoc legal advice or legal representation.

beyondblue and the Mental Health Council of Australia will bring the issue to the attention of the mental health sector at The Mental Health Services (TheMHS) conference today in Melbourne.

Anyone who thinks they may have been discriminated against or for more information can contact beyondblue at theinsuranceproject@beyondblue.org.au or call on 03 9810 6100.

Contact: beyondblue

Reid Sexton 03 9810 6107/0413 777 393
Julie Foster 0409 433 501

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