Mental Health NGO Threatens Class Action Suit against Insurers
The global stereotype about Australia has a lot to do with sunny weather, barbies, and cheerful dispositions. However, this skewed, preconceived view has just about nothing in common with the very real fact that each year, some 6 per cent of the country’s adult population will suffer from one form or another of depression. As such, it’s no wonder that non-governmental organization Beyondblue, a not-for-profit group which fights for the rights of people who suffer from depression and anxiety, has announced it would launch a class action suit against insurance giants in Australia.
Representatives of the organization for mental health activism and awareness spoke at a hearing in Parliament in late January and decried what they perceived as discrimination against sufferers of depression and other similar issues. The action was determined by the recently announced proposal for an anti-discrimination law, issued by the Labor party. Under the provisions of the prospective law, sufferers of various mental health issues, such as depression, risk being denied certain types of policies, on account of the level of risk that their conditions presuppose. Conversely, Beyondblue is asking that insurance providers who discriminate against people with depression be penalized and fined. As of the time this article was written, the draft bill allows insurers to simply refuse to cover those who suffer from mental issues with travel or life insurance, or to charge them higher insurance premiums.
According to Beyondblue releases, there are plenty of examples that illustrate the discriminatory nature of this law. They cite the case of a defense worker, who was not granted life insurance, on account of mental health issues – in spite of the fact that the person had consulted with a psychologist before and was not diagnosed with any illness on the mental health spectrum. Similarly, another insurance company in Australia allegedly denied covering a travel insurance claim from a family who had missed a holiday trip, as one of the family members’ psychotic episodes was purportedly to blame.
In response, the Insurance Council of Australia has said that mental health conditions will be placed within the same category of risk for the time being. That is to say, until healthcare professionals provide apt definitions for each condition, the insurance cannot assess sufferers of various diseases individually and will lump them together in terms of risk. This being the case – with the law still pending and procedures for awarding coverage or covering claims up in the air until further notice, it is probably advisable for people who suffer from mental conditions, or who have such sufferers in their care, to consult with their insurance provider. Help Me Choose allows those seeking a new coverage provider to research costs and policies from numerous companies, making the issue of switching providers less of a hassle.
Meanwhile, Beyondblue has issued a call to an estimated couple hundred sufferers who feel they have been discriminated against by their insurance providers. The NGO is asking patients to contact the organization, in order to be informed of the legal solutions they can benefit from. A class action suit doesn’t seem to be that far on the horizon either, as Beyondblue’s chief executive Kate Carnell explained during the legal and constitutional affairs committee hearing which she attended in Senate. Carnell argued that it is unacceptable for the three million Australians suffering from mental illness at the moment to be exposed to potential life-threatening situation. Higher premiums or denied coverage can determine people with mental health issues to stop seeking out private health insurance altogether. It stands to prevent them from accessing forms of therapy that could save their lives, such as mood boosters or anti-suicide counseling. Simply assuming that schizophrenia and depression sufferers pose the same degree of risk and lumping them together is certainly discriminatory, Carnell added.