Politics — 09 March 2013

A Senate report on the Human Rights and Anti-discrimination Bill has ignored recommendations to guard against insurance agencies unfairly discriminating against people with mental health problems.

The Senate Committee charged with vetting the draft Bill accepted some key recommendations including greater recognition of intersex and LGBTI individuals, and fewer exemptions for religious organisations, but failed to address the issue of exemptions for insurers in their report released Friday.

beyondblue and the Mental Health Council of Australia raised concern over the current operation of the exception for insurance, superannuation and credit in clause 39 of the draft Bill when they fronted the Inquiry earlier this year.

The organisations told the Committee that people with a mental illness regularly experienced discrimination when they sought to obtain insurance or make a claim and recommended the definitions in clause 39 be tightened so that insurers could not use loose wording to deny or restrict,cover to this vulnerable group.

Member of the Committee and Greens Senator Penny Wright told  Psychiatry Update  she was disappointed the recommendations weren’t adopted by the Committee and will consider moving amendments when the legislation goes before parliament.

“We understand that the insurance industry has commercial considerations but ultimately it’s not acceptable that people with mental ill health and unfairly denied coverage without the industry being held to account,” she said.

beyondblue CEO Kate Carnell was also disappointed that the Committee did not take up recommendations to elucidate wording in the clause relating to exceptions such as “other relevant factors”, as well as the call for more transparency surround the “questionable data” used by insurers to deny individuals cover.

“That said, they didn’t go down the other path the insurance industry wanted, which would have made it even tougher with mental illness issues,” she told Psychiatry Update.

Her comments refer to the Insurance Council of Australia’s submission to the Inquiry, which aired the sector’s “serious concerns” about providing data to individuals upon written request and questioned the “utility of providing commercially sensitive information to an individual consumer”.

Ms Carnell said beyondblue would continue to work towards clarifying this section of the Bill and were looking for people who have had negative experiences with insurers.

As first appeared in Psychiatry Update


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