Insurance companies often discriminate against mental health conditions – but one company is hoping to remove the stigma by providing help at no cost

This article is sponsored by MLC Life Insurance –> »

With one in five Australian adults experiencing a mental health condition, chances are this is a topic that touches your life in some way.

And, according to a wide body of evidence, chances are the people in your life experiencing mental health conditions have had trouble getting insurance.

Since 2002, organisations like Beyond Blue and the Mental Health Association have tirelessly lobbied for an end to what they say is discrimination against people with a history of a mental health condition by insurance companies.

“Beyond Blue believes people with a mental health condition should have fair access to insurance products, to enable them to protect themselves and their families against financial stress and uncertainty,” the charity wrote in its submission to the banking royal commission.

The Australian Psychological Society agrees, with CEO Frances Mirabelli taking issues with insurers exempting people with history of mental health condition from insurance policies or considering them to be “high risk”.

“It is disturbing to hear reports of people being discriminated against for seeking help when facing quite normal life experiences such as stress, grief or relationship breakdown,” Mirabelli said in November 2018.

“Taking proactive action to get help when you are struggling actually works to prevent more serious problems in the future. This must be encouraged.”

But the good news is this is starting to change.

Speaking to Business Insider Australia, Sean McCormack, Chief of Group and Retail Partners at MLC Life Insurance, said the idea that Australians who have been impacted by mental health issues have been deterred from seeking professional help is shifting.

MLC Life Insurance is tackling this issue head on, he said, in line with calls from the medical and NGO community.

Previously a customer seeking professional help for a mental health condition might have been considered a risk, but the new way of thinking in insurance is that providers should be supporting customer decisions to improve their health and wellbeing.

“Each year approximately one in every five Australians will experience a mental health condition, however worryingly more than half do not access any treatment — this is not a good outcome,” McCormack said.

In May 2018, MLC Life Insurance launched Mental Health Navigator with Best Doctors — a service providing customers and their immediate family with a detailed mental health review by experts at no cost, to make sure they have the right diagnosis and treatment plan.

“Our research shows that many people feel the current system is too complex to navigate, and we believe this service can help address this issue.”

Far from being discouraged to seek help, these MLC Life Insurance customers can access the service at no cost and they don’t need to make an insurance claim to use it. On average it takes 10 days for a customer to receive their first assessment by a mental health specialist when using Mental Health Navigator.

More than 100 policyholders have already taken advantage of the service. One of them, a young woman named Nadia, credits the service with her being properly diagnosed with a depressive disorder and has helped her to eventually be able to return to full-time work after a long period of ill health.

Hers is just one of many recent stories of a mental health patient who has been helped by her relationship with a life insurer.

On its website, Beyond Blue notes that progress towards ending discrimination against mental ill health patients has been “slow to happen” and that “more needs to be done”.

It’s good to see some insurance companies heeding the call.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or suffering from mental health issues, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

MLC Limited operates the MLC Life Insurance business. MLC Limited uses the MLC brand under licence. MLC Limited is part of the Nippon Life Insurance Group and not a part of the NAB Group of Companies.

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