The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has concluded a major statutory investigation into mental health discrimination by travel insurers.
Final report: Fair-minded cover
The Commission's report, Fair-minded cover, details the findings of the Investigation, which looked at the compliance of several Australian travel insurers over an eight-month period.
The Investigation focused on three companies that made up around 37 per cent of Australia's travel insurance industry – Allianz & AGA, Suncorp and World Nomads Group.
The Investigation found that, in an eight-month period, these travel insurers sold more than 365,000 policies containing terms that discriminated against people with mental health conditions.
These insurers were unable to establish that they could rely on any of the available exceptions under the Equal Opportunity Act to lawfully discriminate.
We are pleased to report that, during the investigation, all three insurers committed to changing their practice of issuing travel insurance policies with a blanket mental health exclusion. This means that some of the largest travel insurers in the Australian market will now provide some cover for mental health conditions.
The report also considered important steps insurers can take to comply with the law in future.
Read our media release and watch our video explainer below.
Download the report
Fair-minded cover - Travel insurance investigation - Full report (PDF, 900KB)
Fair-minded cover - Executive summary (PDF, 405KB)
Fair-minded cover - Ch1 Introduction (PDF, 190KB)
Fair-minded cover - Ch2 Overview of insurance(PDF, 240KB)
Fair-minded cover - Ch 3 Relevant laws (PDF, 205KB)
Fair-minded cover - Ch 4 World Nomads Group (PDF, 190KB)
Fair-minded cover - Ch 5 Suncorp (PDF, 210KB)
Fair-minded cover - Ch 6 Allianz and AGA (PDF, 220KB)
Fair-minded cover - Ch 7 Zurich and Cover-More (PDF, 155KB)
Fair-minded cover - Ch 8 Enduring change (PDF, 170KB)
Fair-minded cover - Glossary (PDF, 95KB)
Victoria's Equal Opportunity Act 2010 protects people from being discriminated against because of a disability when they are buying goods and services.
Mental health conditions are a form of disability, and travel insurance is a service.
Leading mental health advocates – including Beyond Blue, Public Interest Advocacy Centre and SANE Australia – have, for several years, highlighted concerns about the way insurers offer and sell policies for people with a mental health condition.
Unlawful discrimination on the basis of a mental health condition in travel insurance policies also came to the Victorian community's attention as a result of the case of Ingram v QBE Insurance (Australia) Ltd  1936 VCAT.
The Commission suspected that insurance companies could be unlawfully discriminating by:
- refusing to provide someone with travel insurance cover for their mental health condition
- offering travel insurance to people with a mental health condition on unfavourable terms.
With one in three Australians suffering a mental health issue in their lifetime and thousands of Australians travelling each year, the Commission believed that these policies were potentially harmful to a significant number of people.
The Commission conducted this Investigation into travel insurance through its investigation function under the Equal Opportunity Act.
Investigations can play a critical role in holding organisations and industries to account and are an important way the Commission can effect real change and ensure fairer treatment for all Victorians.
The Investigation examined travel insurance policies offered by Allianz Australia Limited, Suncorp Group Limited and World Nomads Group that maintained general, or 'blanket' exclusions for any cover of a mental health condition.
We also sought input from insurers that had taken steps to remove the blanket clauses, to better understand their approach.
The Commission then asked insurers who maintained the blanket exclusions to explain their decision to offer these kinds of policies, and to provide any statistical or actuarial information they legally rely on to substantiate that. Importantly, the law requires that information used by an insurer must be reasonable to rely on – which means it should be relevant and up to date.
Insurers must also consider whether there are alternative actions they can take to not discriminate against people with mental health conditions.
In addition, the Commission sought independent expert advice from an actuary to review the information provided to the Investigation, and to help identify better alternatives that insurers could adopt.
Finally, the Commission engaged with key industry stakeholders, such as the Actuaries Institute and Insurance Council of Australia.
Summary of findings
- During the Investigation Period Allianz, Suncorp and WNG issued travel insurance policies including a blanket mental health exclusion and failed to indemnify people under those policies based on a mental health condition.
- During the Investigation Period Allianz, Suncorp and WNG had a legal obligation under the Equal Opportunity Act to not discriminate against people with a mental health condition in the provision of travel insurance.
- The information provided to the Investigation by Allianz, Suncorp and WNG did not demonstrate a sufficient basis to claim the data exception for insurers.
- On that basis, Allianz, Suncorp and WNG unlawfully discriminated against people with a mental health condition during the Investigation Period.
- Allianz, Suncorp and WNG did not take sufficient steps to meet their positive duty under the Equal Opportunity Act to eliminate discrimination as far as possible.
Summary of recommendations
- All insurers who participated in the Investigation should develop a strategy for compliance with the Equal Opportunity Act.
- Allianz, Suncorp and WNG should apply rigorous actuarial analysis to the policy terms they use to offer or exclude travel insurance cover to people with a mental health condition (having regard to the DDA Guidelines).
- Allianz, Suncorp and WNG should contact claimants denied indemnity or claims based on a mental health condition during the Investigation Period to notify them about the Investigation and its outcomes.
- All insurers who participated in the Investigation should provide their staff with regular education and training on anti-discrimination law.
- All insurers who participated in the Investigation should develop risk profiles and appropriate coverage for different mental health conditions.
- All insurers who participated in the Investigation should provide clear reasons to travel insurance customers for refusing to offer cover or deny indemnity based on a mental health condition.
- The Actuaries Institute and the Insurance Council of Australia should facilitate education on anti-discrimination law for actuary members and insurers respectively.
- The Insurance Council of Australia should incorporate its Guidance on Mental Health as a mandatory and enforceable part of its Code of Conduct.
Agreements with insurers
Following the investigation, the Commission entered into an agreement with nib holdings (parent company of World Nomads Group) regarding the removal of travel insurance products that included discriminatory clauses. We confirm that, since this agreement was executed, nib holdings has now removed the clauses from its products and have accordingly met all requirements of the agreement.
In six months' time the Commission will seek an update on progress made towards implementing our recommendations from the insurers and entities. We will publish their responses here.
Making a complaint as a consumer
If you believe you have been discriminated against because of a mental health condition, disability or another protected personal characteristic you can call the Commission on 1300 292 153, chat with us online or submit an online complaint form.
The Commission offers a free, fair and timely dispute-resolution service that can help to resolve complaints of discrimination and harassment.