Wednesday, 12 June 2019 06:00

Commission’s travel insurance investigation a catalyst for fairer treatment for people with mental health conditions

An investigation by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission into the travel insurance industry has seen several major travel insurers change their policies to prevent discrimination against people with mental health conditions.

The Commission's report, Fair-minded cover, details the findings of the investigation that looked at several Australian insurers, including three companies that made up around 37 per cent of Australia's travel insurance industry – Allianz, Suncorp and World Nomads Group.

"Australians are avid travellers. We travel for work, family and adventure. 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," said the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, Kristen Hilton.

"This investigation is an important step in making travel affordable and safe for everyone and reducing discrimination in the community. It's a catalyst for change."

The investigation found that, in an eight-month period, Australian travel insurers sold more than 365,000 policies that contained terms that discriminated against people with mental health conditions.

"The three major travel insurers we examined all discriminated unlawfully against people with mental health conditions," said Commissioner Hilton. "Their policies included a blanket exclusion, which meant that people who experienced mental health conditions weren't covered. They also didn't adequately recognise different types of mental health conditions and their risk or severity."

Under Victoria's Equal Opportunity Act 2010 there is an exception that might have allowed insurers to limit insurance if they had adequate statistical data or reasons to support their approach – but they were unable to adequately explain this to the investigation.

As a result of the investigation, all insurers that took part have already removed, or taken steps to remove, blanket mental health exclusions from their travel insurance policies. They 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. Not every mental health condition is the same – insurers need to account for differences between them," said Commissioner Hilton.

"Discrimination can occur in many parts of public life – at work, through education, in seeking goods and services. The Commission's role is to protect people's rights and work towards a fairer, safer and more inclusive Victoria. We look forward to working with the industry to ensure this kind of discrimination is eliminated."

The Commission completed this work through its investigation function under the Equal Opportunity Act. Investigations can play a critical role in holding organisations and industries to account and are an important way the Commission can effect real change and ensure fairer treatment for all Victorians.

Read the full report

Fair-minded cover - Full report (PDF, 900KB)

Making a complaint as a consumer

Fair-minded cover - Consumer fact sheet (PDF, 95KB)

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of a mental health condition, disability or another protected personal characteristic you can call the Commission on 1300 292 153, chat with us online or submit an online complaint form.

The Commission offers a free, fair and timely dispute-resolution service that can help to resolve complaints of discrimination and harassment.

Snapshot summary of the Commission's recommendations

  1. All insurers who participated in the Investigation should develop a strategy for compliance with the Equal Opportunity Act.
  2. Allianz, Suncorp and WNG should apply rigorous actuarial analysis to the policy terms they use to offer or exclude travel insurance cover to people with a mental health condition (having regard to the DDA Guidelines).
  3. Allianz, Suncorp and WNG should contact claimants denied indemnity or claims based on a mental health condition during the Investigation Period to notify them about the Investigation and its outcomes.
  4. All insurers who participated in the Investigation should provide their staff with regular education and training on anti-discrimination law.
  5. All insurers who participated in the Investigation should develop risk profiles and appropriate coverage for different mental health conditions.
  6. All insurers who participated in the Investigation should provide clear reasons to travel insurance customers for refusing to offer cover or deny indemnity based on a mental health condition.
  7. The Actuaries Institute and the Insurance Council of Australia should facilitate education on anti-discrimination law for actuary members and insurers respectively.
  8. The Insurance Council of Australia should incorporate its Guidance on Mental Health in its revised Code of Conduct to ensure that it is mandatory and enforceable.

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Media contact

Megan Breen
0447 526 642

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