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Insurance Council responds to damning report of mental health discrimination against travellers

Christian Fleetwood

Christian Fleetwood

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has issued its response to a report revealing widespread mental health discrimination in Australia’s travel insurance industry.

More than 365,000 discriminatory policies were revealed to have been sold by Allianz, Suncorp and World Nomads to people suffering from mental illness yesterday, in a report published by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission following its eight-month investigation of the industry.

The report showed that several Australian insurers had policies that included blanket exclusions, which meant that people who experienced mental health conditions weren’t covered.

Of those investigated were party insurers Allianz, Suncorp and World Nomads Group – representing around 37 per cent of Australia’s travel insurance industry – and non-party insurers Zurich/Covermore and QBE, which represent more than 30 per cent of the industry.

Allianz, Suncorp and World Nomads breached their legal obligation under the Equal Opportunity Act to not discriminate against people with a mental health condition in the provision of travel insurance and failed to indemnify people under those policies based on a mental health condition.

Both Zurich/Covermore and GBE had removed existing mental health exclusions by the time of the investigation. QBE declined to provide assist the investigation.

ICA chief executive officer Rob Whelan (pictured above) said the industry was reviewing the report.

“The ICA supported and cooperated with the … investigation, and also supports the aims of the Commission’s industry-focused recommendations,” Whelan said.

“The ICA has been working with its members and other stakeholders for some time on improving mental health-related coverage and outcomes for travel insurance customers, and strong progress has been made.”

Whelan said insurers with more than 80 per cent share of the travel insurance market had either removed or would soon remove general exclusions for mental health conditions, with cover available for first-instance episodes of mental health conditions.

“The ICA is close to finalising an updated Code of Practice, which is likely to contain provisions relating to mental health that take into account concerns raised during the Code review process and emphasised during the investigation,” he said, adding that “updating the Code is one of a number of steps the ICA and the industry are taking to improve customer outcomes in this important area of public health”.

“The industry is reviewing the … recommendations, and is committed to learning from the experiences described in this report and from its constructive relationship with consumer groups and mental health advocates,” he said.

“Insurers are reviewing their anti-discrimination training and seeking to extend awareness of mental health requirements throughout their businesses and supplier networks.”

Whelan also said that the report highlighted the industry’s need to have access to federal government data on mental health to enable travel insurers to extend risk-based products to all sections of the community.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights revealed that all insurers investigated have agreed to address the commission’s recommendations, including in relation to the way they “offer and indemnify pre-existing mental health conditions”.

To view the report in full, click here.

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