An investigation finds that travel policies were discriminatory

An investigation by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission into the travel insurance industry has seen several major travel insurers change their policies to prevent discrimination against people with mental health conditions.

The Commission’s report, Fair-minded cover, details the findings of the investigation that looked at several Australian insurers, including three companies that made up around 37 per cent of Australia’s travel insurance industry.

“Australians are avid travellers. We travel for work, family and adventure. Being able to access insurance equitably is an important part of travelling. We found that for many people with mental health conditions, travel insurance was either not available or could not be claimed,” said the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, Kristen Hilton.

The investigation found that, in an eight-month period, Australian travel insurers sold more than 365,000 policies that contained terms that discriminated against people with mental health conditions.

“The three major travel insurers we examined all discriminated unlawfully against people with mental health conditions,” said Commissioner Hilton. “Their policies included a blanket exclusion, which meant that people who experienced mental health conditions weren’t covered. They also didn’t adequately recognise different types of mental health conditions and their risk or severity.”

As a result of the investigation, all insurers that took part have already removed, or taken steps to remove, blanket mental health exclusions from their travel insurance policies. They have also agreed to address the Commission’s recommendations, including in relation to the way they offer and indemnify pre-existing mental health conditions.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) is leading an industry-wide approach to further extend coverage in travel insurance policies for mental health conditions. ICA CEO Rob Whelan said, “The ICA supported and cooperated with the investigation, and also supports the aims of the Commission’s industry-focused recommendations.”

He said insurers with more than 80 per cent share of the travel insurance market had either removed or would soon remove general exclusions for mental health conditions, with cover also widely available for first-instance episodes of mental health conditions.

“The ICA is close to finalising an updated Code of Practice, which is likely to contain provisions relating to mental health that take into account concerns raised during the Code review process and emphasised during the investigation,” Whelan continued. “Updating the Code is one of a number of steps the ICA and the industry are taking to improve customer outcomes in this important area of public health.

Commissioner Hilton said, “When deciding how to insure people with mental health conditions, insurers need to think beyond their bottom line. Not every mental health condition is the same – insurers need to account for differences between them.”

“Discrimination can occur in many parts of public life – at work, through education, in seeking goods and services. The Commission’s role is to protect people’s rights and work towards a fairer, safer and more inclusive Victoria. We look forward to working with the industry to ensure this kind of discrimination is eliminated.”

The Commission made a number of recommendations for consideration by travel insurers, the Insurance Council of Australia and the Institute of Actuaries.