People with a history of mental illness are regularly discriminated against when they apply for insurance, according to the Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA).
The MHCA has heard many shocking stories of unfair treatment by insurers, who often reject people with mental illness when they try to purchase life insurance, income protection insurance, total and permanent disability insurance and travel insurance. Claims associated with mental illness are usually explicitly excluded in many insurance policies.
‘With 3.2 million people experiencing mental illness in any given year, it is likely that the population of people with a history of mental illness is seriously under-insured’, said MHCA CEO Frank Quinlan.
‘People are often too scared to disclose mental illness because they don’t want to be “branded” asuninsurable.’
The MHCA will give evidence alongside beyondblue at a hearing of the Senate Inquiry into the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill today in Melbourne.
In its joint submission to the Inquiry, the MHCA and beyondblue draw attention to the negative treatment of people with mental illness by insurance companies. Stories from consumers were also captured in the 2011 MHCA report on Mental Health, Discrimination and Insurance.
‘Insurers don’t seem to possess even a basic knowledge of mental health issues,’ Mr Quinlan said. ‘Just seeing a counsellor is apparently regarded by insurance companies as a major risk – even if someone has never been diagnosed with a mental illness.’
Insurance companies sometimes allow people with a mental illness to purchase cover if they have been without symptoms or have not sought treatment for a given period.
‘Unfortunately, this can mean that people avoid seeking help at the very time that they most need it, just so they can qualify for insurance. Insurers are actually promoting poorer mental health by discouraging people to seek help and get treatment. We can’t stand by and let this continue’, said Mr Quinlan.
‘The Mental Health Council of Australia supports beyondblue’s call for people who have experienced discrimination by insurers to take their complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission, and, if they don’t get satisfaction, onto the Federal Court,’ Mr Quinlan concluded.
The joint submission to the Senate Inquiry and the Mental Health, Discrimination and Insurance report are available at www.mhca.org.au.
Media contact: Frank Quinlan, Chief Executive Officer - 02 6285 3100 or 0409 655 460