The way insurers deal with mental health issues needs to change considerably, ANZ’s new head of mental health and wellness, Maria Falas, says.
“Growing awareness has [led to] a rise in records of mental illness across the developed world,” Falas explains. “As an industry, we haven’t put the lens on this issue before.”
The question is being posed to insurers: Does the current system accommodate the rise in mental health and wellness cases before them?
Head of life insurance at ANZ-owned OnePath, Gerard Kerr, believes it doesn’t.
“Even we would admit, as an industry we haven’t done a very good job of explaining how we appreciate the impacts of mental illness,” Kerr says.
Falas agrees, and argues now is the time to face the issue.
Coaching and education
“They are now one of our biggest claims causes in income protection,” she says. “It’s time to step back and assess whether we have evolved enough in 15 years to deal with growth in the mental health claims experience.”
To address this, ANZ is launching an initiative aimed at “getting ahead” of mental health problems through coaching programs and new channels of education.
“We offer mental health coaching at claims and have done so since November 2017,” Falas says.
These programs, she explains, are still in their infancy and ANZ is trying to ascertain whether clients have an appetite for the service. So far, the offer has been aimed at clients “with low to mid-level anxiety and depression”, she says.
Workplace bullying is a major area of concern for Falas. She reveals that ANZ is working with experts at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) “to understand our data more”.
“With things like workplace bullying and some of the triggers that we’re seeing, you ask yourself the question: If somebody knew how to deal with this situation before it happened, how would that have helped them?”
The early-detection conflict
The keys to success, she explains, will be in preventative tools, education and early detection.
Early detection is an issue. Seeking help is a major part of mental illness prevention and treatment but the industry wrestles with conflicts in this dynamic. When clients go on the record with a mental health issue, they face increased premiums and special loadings that can be difficult to shed and can make cover prohibitive.
It’s a struggle Kerr is quick to acknowledge.
“This is where we say, yes, as an industry we just have not done this well,” he admits. “We are certainly working to get deeper into the type, situation and environment of mental illness events.
“Can we fix it in a couple of months? Probably not.”
Kerr reiterates that the work ANZ is doing with UTS will be key in understanding the data that goes into its approach. He acknowledges that some of the questions the insurer is asking might not be the ones that matter.
When told an anecdote about a client who couldn’t afford her life-insurance premiums after seeking counselling to help deal with grief over the death of her child, Kerr agrees that insurers may be getting it wrong.
“Someone might have a grief event and get counselling and we might subsequently look at that as a severe form,” Kerr says. “It could actually be the opposite. They could be one of the better risks because they’re the ones seeking counselling.
“This is why we’re working with UTS to look deeper at the data,” he says. “We want a more informed view of the situation.”
TOPICS: ANZ Wealth/OnePath, insurance