News ID: 208417
Published: 1118 GMT January 20, 2018

People with mental illnesses refused access to insurance cover

People with mental illnesses refused access to insurance cover
theguardian.com

Insurers in the UK have been accused of depriving access to life insurance and other kinds of cover to people with depression and anxiety, even for physical conditions unrelated to their mental health.

People who have suffered even mild mental health conditions or one-off episodes say they have been refused life insurance altogether, aggravating their financial insecurity, theguardian.com wrote.

Dozens of complainants have been in touch with the Guardian about the alleged discrimination. Charities and campaigners described the findings as ‘extremely worrying’ and showed that insurers were operating based on an outdated understanding of mental illness.

In some cases, insurers appear to base their refusal on long-distant episodes of depression or anxiety, or when customers admit to having had suicidal thoughts or self-harming noted on their medical records. These customers are then allegedly deemed unsuitable to insure even for circumstances where death is not linked to a mental condition.

One refused applicant was a victim of the July 7, 2005 London bombings who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. She described being turned down as ‘upsetting’ and ‘worrying’, saying it showed ignorance about mental illness.

“I was never given a specific explanation as to why I had been rejected but I have not got any physical health issues,” said the woman, who did not wish to be identified.

“I can see it from the perspective of the insurance company; they are not going to want to provide cover for mental health related issues to someone who has had mental health problems. But I was surprised to be rejected for any coverage at all, particularly given my otherwise good health,” she added.

Others say they were penalized after attending one or two grief counselling sessions following a family death, leading to rocketing premiums.

Charities warned that gaps in the law mean customers have little protection against this form of prejudice.

“The difficulty is that the only protection available is to people who are disabled under the Equality Act and even then there are certain exemptions for insurance business,” said Michael Henson-Webb, head of legal at mental health charity Mind.

“The current definition of disability under that Act doesn’t cover everyone with a mental health problem and makes it difficult for individuals with mental health problems and their legal advisers to clearly determine their rights.”

Laura Peters, advice manager at Rethink Mental Illness, said: “What is judged as ‘high risk’ seems to be based on an increasingly outdated understanding of mental illness. This viewpoint is resulting in people ... being disproportionately penalized for their condition with eye-watering premiums or flat out rejection. Life and health insurance can be a vital safety net.”

“It feels to me wholly inappropriate and discriminatory. This is something that the government needs to investigate as a matter of urgency. We need to get a fundamental review of these policies."

The Guardian heard from dozens of people about the matter. Many of them were rejected for life insurance but others had problems getting health or travel insurance. They said the reason for their refusal had not been made clear but many said the only probable cause was their mental health record.

Many believed they were turned down because of having suicidal thoughts or self-harming noted in their medical records, but others said they were told to apply again at a later date due to having had a recent diagnosis.

The suspicion is that insurers are cherry-picking customers to minimize risk and boost the bottom line.

   
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