A major investigation into the travel insurance industry in Australia has uncovered widespread unlawful mental health discrimination, prompting some of the companies involved to change their policies.
The eight-month investigation was conducted by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, and found travel insurers sold more than 365,000 policies that contained terms that unlawfully discriminated against people with mental health conditions.
“Being able to access insurance equitably is an important part of travelling. We found that for many people with mental health conditions, travel insurance was either not available or could not be claimed,” Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton said.
Major companies involved
The Commission’s Fair-minded cover report details the findings of the investigation that looked at several Australian insurers, including three of the biggest – that together represent around 37 per cent of Australia’s travel insurance industry – Allianz, Suncorp and World Nomads Group.
The report found that each of the three insurers had unlawfully discriminated against people with mental health conditions.
“Their policies included a blanket exclusion, which meant that people who experienced mental health conditions weren’t covered,” Ms Hilton said.
“They also didn’t adequately recognise different types of mental health conditions and their risk or severity.”
According to the Equal Opportunity Act, companies are legally allowed to limit insurance if they can provide adequate statistical data or reasons to support their approach.
None of those investigated were able to adequately explain this to the investigation, according to the Commission.
Investigation ‘a catalyst for change’
Ms Hilton said the investigation was an important step in reducing discrimination in the community.
“It’s a catalyst for change,” she said.
As a result of the investigation, all insurers that took part have either removed or taken steps to remove blanket mental health exclusions from their travel insurance policies.
The insurers have also agreed to address the Commission’s recommendations, including in relation to the way they “offer and indemnify pre-existing mental health conditions”.
“When deciding how to insure people with mental health conditions, insurers need to think beyond their bottom line,” Ms Hilton said
Not all mental health conditions are the same
Industrial relations advocate Miles Heffernan from Discrimination Claims praised the Commission’s work.
“The Commission should be congratulated, firstly for its extensive investigation into this issue, and then for the results it has been able to achieve – with several companies changing their policies to make them fair to people with mental health issues,” he said.
“Not all mental health conditions are the same, and insurance companies need to realise this, and not be so lazy with blanket discriminatory bans.
“You’d be surprised how many people come to us having faced discrimination in the workplace based on a mental health condition.
“A sneaky boss will send a worker off to get a mental health assessment, and then use the results as an excuse to sack them, or reduce their hours, or change their role.
“In cases like that, we are always quick to get to the Human Rights Commission to lodge a claim for unlawful impairment discrimination.
“If you are ever told to get any form of mental health assessment by your employer, do not sign anything, do not agree to do it, and give us a call straight away,” Mr Heffernan said.
If you have experienced discrimination on the basis of an impairment, including a mental health condition, you may be entitled to compensation.
For specialist help and advice, please call our team at Discrimination Claims today on
1300 853 837
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