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ICA hits back at mental health exclusion report

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has rejected a report by comparison website Mozo on mental health coverage among travel insurers.

The website conducted a mystery shop, finding 51% of travel insurers will not cover incidents related to mental health.

The remainder allow customers to opt in to additional cover, and will consider covering for a premium following a medical assessment, it says.

Mozo director Kirsty Lamont says the travel insurance industry is exhibiting a high level of discrimination around mental illness, placing it in the “too-hard” basket.

But ICA spokesman Campbell Fuller rejects the assertion that most travel insurers do not cover mental health conditions. He says the industry has improved dramatically over the past three years, with most insurers removing blanket exclusions and offering cover for first-instance episodes.

Mozo says 48% of insurers consider a visit to a psychologist an indicator of a pre-existing condition, while 52% point to a medical diagnosis. Half consider a mental health incident at any point in a customer’s life grounds to define it a pre-existing condition.

Mr Fuller says many insurers will cover pre-existing mental health conditions on an individually underwritten basis, similar to coverage available for other pre-existing medical conditions. 

Doron Samuell, director and Consultant Psychiatrist for behavioural economics group Behaviour, Chief Medical Officer of Zurich and a strategic adviser to ICA, told insuranceNEWS.com.au Mozo is not in a position to establish ICA members’ policy terms and conditions.

Very few, if any, have blanket mental health exclusions, Dr Samuell says.

A set of principles providing a minimum standard for dealing with mental health claims has been inserted into the ICA Code of Conduct, receiving no opposition from members. The code has yet to be voted on in its totality.

Dr Samuell says Mozo’s claim that insurers will not cover pre-existing conditions is technically tricky, because there is no statistical basis on which to make clear predictions.

“Now having removed blanket mental health exclusions, there is a lot more appetite by insurers to take on more risk to cover the pre-existing conditions, and that’s increasingly what we’re likely to see,” he told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

Mr Fuller said: “The travel insurance industry is working with governments and other organisations to improve mental health coverage. The industry is also seeking data to better understand the risks of Australians travelling with a mental health condition.”

About 45% of Australians are likely to suffer a mental health condition in their lifetime, according to the Black Dog Institute.

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