Help improve insurance for people living with mental illness
Did you know that people who declare a mental health problem can struggle to access insurance? Mental Health UK is working with the industry to fix this, but first, they want to hear from you.
Several headlines in the news in the last year reflect what we already know: that people who have experienced mental health conditions ranging from anxiety to bipolar disorder can be denied cover.
Let’s face it, insurance isn’t a particularly sexy subject. And many of us probably take for granted the ability to access insurance products. We buy travel insurance before a holiday in case something goes wrong. Perhaps we’ve taken out life insurance so that our loved ones and dependents are protected in the event of something happening to us, especially if we have a mortgage. In both cases, our biggest concern is likely to be getting the best deal.
But if you declare a mental health condition there’s a good chance you won’t find the process as straightforward, affordable or accessible. You could find yourself being hit with huge exclusions which rule out anything related to your mental health, unaffordable premiums because of the ‘loading’ linked to your mental health, or you could find yourself declined altogether with little or no explanation.
That’s why our partners at Mental Health UK are working with the insurance industry and others to increase and improve access to insurance - and they would like to hear your experiences via our online survey
There has been some good progress in the last year already. The insurers we’ve worked with want to see better outcomes. The challenge is how to make this happen in a way that makes a real difference to people.
To help us make that difference, we’ve launched a survey on mental health and insurance which will help us to ensure that any change is informed by the experience, attitudes and wants of people with experience of mental ill-health.
We know of numerous cases where people holding down full-time jobs, with no recent episode or obvious risk just can’t get cover. This affects people’s lives – they may be unable to go on holiday, or they may take a huge risk by going on holiday without adequate cover.
One of the tricky things about insurance is that it’s an area where ‘lawful discrimination’ against those with mental ill-health is allowed. The Equality Act permits insurers and other financial service providers to restrict their products to those with a disability (including mental ill-health), if there is reasonable and relevant evidence that this disability poses a significant risk to the insurer.
On the face of it, this makes sense: many people with a physical health condition, such as heart problems, also present a risk to insurers and this may affect the cover
they can get. But people with mental illness, or a history of mental ill-health, face an additional challenge: ill-informed assumptions about what is possible for them and therefore the risk they pose to the insurer.
This could, for example, be an assumption that they cannot manage their illness without medication, or that they’re unlikely to hold down a job, or that they are unwell if they are in talking therapy. Such assumptions fly in the face of the reality of many at Mental Health UK is in touch with, and other evidence.
While mental health awareness is rising fast up the agenda, outdated evidence, inflexible underwriting algorithms and sometimes individual attitudes haven’t kept pace with today’s reality of living with mental ill-health. And commercial sensitivity and complex algorithms mean it’s difficult to challenge insurers’ assumptions decisions and form a view about whether their decisions are based on lawful discrimination.
Ultimately, we don’t think it’s right that people with mental health problems may not be able to enjoy the peace of mind and protection that many of us take for granted. We’re also saddened by stories of people asked inappropriate or unnecessary personal questions which can leave them triggered and distressed.
With one in four of us likely to face a mental health problem in our lifetime, there is a moral but also a business need to confront an issue that affects a significant minority of the market.
The survey is open until Wednesday 15 January 2020, please share it with anyone who has a story to tell.