Anti-discrimination advocacy helps further reform to insurance industry

Anti-discrimination advocacy helps further reform to insurance industry

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

We welcome the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission’s final report following their investigation into mental health discrimination in travel insurance, ‘Fair-minded cover’.

The investigation looked at the data relied upon by three travel insurers to justify their policies excluding cover to people that have, or have experienced, a mental health condition. The commission found multiple breaches of anti-discrimination law, showing a widespread lack of understanding and compliance.

The report follows Victoria Legal Aid’s work in 2015 assisting Ella Ingram to win a landmark discrimination case against the insurance giant QBE. In Ella’s case, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) found that QBE’s exclusion of all claims made because of a mental illness, regardless of the type, severity or circumstances of the illness, was discriminatory under the Equal Opportunity Act. VCAT found that QBE had directly discriminated against Ella by providing her with a travel insurance policy that included a blanket mental health exclusion, and by relying on that clause to reject her claim for reimbursement of travel expenses.

The case brought into focus the insurance industry’s systemic discrimination against people with a mental health condition. Despite this, change has been slow.  Over a year after the case, QBE (Australia) Ltd changed its travel insurance policy by removing a blanket exclusion for claims relating to mental health conditions, but other insurers continued to apply these exclusions.

Ella’s case was an impetus for the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry that was pursued via its investigation powers under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

Acting Managing lawyer of the Equality Law Program Kathryn Moloney is hopeful the report will be a further step towards ending systemic discrimination against people with mental health conditions, 'This report builds on Ella’s case by revealing the extent of these discriminatory practices in the insurance industry.'  

The report makes a number of recommendations including that:

  • insurers implement compliance strategies to ensure regular monitoring and updating of actuarial and statistical data on which insurance terms are based
  • insurers distinguish between mental health conditions and provide automatic cover for some conditions (as many policies already do for some physical conditions)
  • insurers contact travel insurance claimants denied cover for a mental health condition during the investigation period and provide a copy of the commission’s report
  • the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) include mandatory provisions relating to mental health within its code of practice.

The commission confirmed that the three travel insurers investigated have agreed to remove discriminatory clauses from their travel insurance policies.

'We would like to see these recommendations taken up by the industry to provide for greater accountability and fairness. It’s encouraging to see the commission relying on its power to highlight systemic discriminatory practices as it’s too much of a burden on individuals to have to test the lawfulness of these policies by initiating costly and time consuming litigation themselves', said Ms Moloney.

More information

Read about Your rights if you have a mental health condition

Read more about about our case representing Ella Ingram.

 

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