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Insurers slammed on ‘disturbing’ mental health exclusions

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“Discriminatory” exclusions in life and travel insurance have once again drawn fire from mental health groups.

The ABC reported last week that a grieving widow was urged by her life insurer not to seek stress or anxiety treatment for two years, or mental health exclusions could not be lifted.

The Australian Psychological Society has now called on insurers to “urgently address discrimination” against people with mental health issues.

CEO Frances Mirabelli says too often people seeking life or travel insurance are denied cover or have claims refused because of past mental health treatment. Others face “significant increases” to policy costs.

“It is disturbing to hear reports of people being discriminated against for seeking help when facing quite normal life experiences such as stress, grief or relationship breakdown,” she said.

“Taking proactive action to get help when you are struggling actually works to prevent more serious problems in the future. This must be encouraged.”

She also warns insurance companies against using the development of “mental health plans” as a measure of people’s previous psychological ill health.

“Setting up a mental health plan does not mean it was ever used, because people can spontaneously recover from a crisis, and it also does not imply a particular diagnosis of a mental illness.

“So much work has been done to correct perceptions about mental health in the community, and an end to these stigma-laden policies is long overdue from the insurance industry.” 

The Insurance Council of Australia says major travel insurers have already acted on mental health exclusions.

“Insurers with a majority share of the travel insurance market have removed blanket exclusions for mental health conditions, with cover available for first-instance episodes of mental health conditions,” a spokesman said.

“Many insurers will also cover pre-existing mental health conditions on an individually underwritten basis similar to the coverage available for pre-existing medical conditions.”

The spokesman says the General Insurance Code of Practice is being redrafted to include guidance on engaging with consumers with mental health conditions.

“The guidance includes principles on product design that considers the needs of consumers with a mental health condition, and encourages the industry to further efforts to increase insurance accessibility,” he said.