Mental health organisation beyondblue has called for new legislation to stop insurers refusing some types of cover to people who suffer from depression and anxiety.
The organisation wants penalties for insurers who discriminate by either refusing to provide some types of cover, such as life and travel insurance, or charging higher premiums.
A number of WA people are expected to form part of a potential class action co-ordinated by beyondblue against the insurance industry. Speaking at the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee yesterday, beyondblue chief executive Kate Carnell said the problem had stopped some people from accessing potentially life-saving treatment, such as counselling and antidepressants.
She said the discrimination occurred because insurers lumped together all types of mental illness, such as schizophrenia and depression, when assessing risk profiles.
Ms Carnell said penalties such as higher premiums were only lawful if the customers posed a heightened risk, but claimed there was no data to support claims that people suffering depression or anxiety were higher-risk than those who did not have the illnesses.
"More than three million Australian currently have a mental illness, but if they try to get insurance they may face discrimination that adds to their stress, stops them from insuring themselves and discourages them from seeking treatment," she said.
Beyondblue claims examples that may form part of a potential class action include a defence worker who was denied life insurance after visiting a psychologist years previously, despite not having been diagnosed with a condition.
Another insurer refused to pay out a travel claim after a family missed a holiday because one family member had a psychotic episode.
The Insurance Council of Australia said it was fair to put all mental health conditions in one risk category, claiming it was up to the medical sector to come up with consistent definitions of each condition before insurers could change their procedures.