A Senate Inquiry that kicks off today will tackle a loophole in current legislation that allows the insurance sector to refuse personal cover to people with mental illness.
Insurance companies contravene the current Disability Discrimination Act by refusing cover to, imposing exclusions on, or rejecting claims by people with mental illness, according to submissions to a wider Inquiry into the Human Rights and Anti-discrimination Bill 2012.
The Australian Greens will seek to amend a section of the Bill that provides exemptions for insurers who discriminate against people on the grounds of age, sex or disability.
“It is very disappointing and unfair if these exemptions are being exploited by insurance companies,” said the Greens spokesperson for Legal Affairs and Mental Health, Senator Penny Wright.
“While we understand the commercial necessities of the insurance sector, it is not acceptable that people with mental ill-health are denied coverage. It is even more shocking that people who have recovered from past mental illnesses may still be denied insurance protection years down the track,” she said.
In a joint submission to the Inquiry, the Mental Health Council of Australia and Beyondblue said “the experiences of individual consumers make it clear that such discrimination is a common occurrence”.
“Consumers have reported instances of discrimination in relation to travel insurance, life insurance, total and permanent disability insurance, income protection and, to a lesser extent, loan insurance.”
Due to front the Inquiry in Melbourne this afternoon, the MHCA and Beyondblue are expected to tell Senators that the current Disability Discrimination Act allowed insurers to infer a mental illness in the absence of a diagnosis, such as when someone has seen a counsellor or psychologist.
Insurers are also known to use risk factors and symptoms of mental illness, such as stress and insomnia to calculate the likelihood of a claim relating to another mental illness.
MHCA and Beyondblue will urge the Inquiry to ensure the insurance sector did not reinforce discrimination against marginalised groups, and that insurers would be held accountable for the privilege of being exempt from anti-discrimination law in certain limited circumstances.
The Senate report is due to be released February 18.
As first appeared in Psychiatry Update, 23 January 2013.