Mental Health, Discrimination and Insurance: A Survey of Consumer Experiences 2011 details the results of a survey which captures the experiences of Australians living with mental illness when accessing insurance products and making claims against their policies. This survey builds on the work of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the mental health, insurance and financial services sectors, which aims to improve life insurance and income protection outcomes for Australians experiencing mental illness.
This survey revealed the substantial difficulties Australians with experience of mental illness face when seeking insurance products that are otherwise readily available to people without a history of mental illness.
Survey respondents reported significant difficulty and discrimination when applying for insurance products, particularly life insurance and income protection products, and when making claims against their policies. Mental health consumers often face higher premiums and exclusions on their policies and in many cases are refused coverage outright. Moreover, survey respondents stressed that insurance companies did not take into consideration their personal circumstances and instead made broad assumptions about their ability to maintain employment and their general level of function, and this in turn had negative implications for their application or claim:
Survey respondents revealed a lack of awareness of their rights and responsibilities in relation to insurance applications, including their duty of disclosure, or their right to appeal a decision. Moreover, the matter-of-fact nature of some sales, underwriting and/or call centre staff in obtaining information about suicide attempts and/or ideation, for instance, was viewed as humiliating, embarrassing or undignified.
Given that one in five Australians will be affected by mental illness in any twelve month period, and one in two will be affected across the span of a lifetime, it is of great concern that Australians living with mental illness are still not able to access or maintain insurance policies at the same rate as other Australians.