'Landmark' Ruling Against QBE Insurer Which Denied Depression Claim

18/12/2015 4:10 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Beyondblue has hailed as "landmark" a ruling that a travel insurance company discriminated against a young woman for denying her claim due to her mental illness.

Ella Ingram, now 21, cancelled a school trip to the United States in 2012 after suffering severe depression which left her too unwell to travel.

Her insurer, QBE, refused to reimburse her costs, claiming their policies did not cover mental illness.

In a judgement in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) today, the company was ruled to have "engaged in direct discrimination" against Ingram and her disability. QBE was ruled to have breached the Equal Opportunities Act when it issued the insurance policy with a mental illness exclusion, as well as when it refused her claim.

QBE was ordered to pay $4,292 to cover Ingram's travel costs and a further $15,000 in compensation.

Beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman told The Huffington Post Australia it was "a great day" for the wider recognition of mental illness.

"It means so much, not just for Ella but the hundreds of thousands of people we know face discrimination every day for mental health problems," she said.

"This is a real wakeup call for the insurance industry to really look at their practices, to make sure they're relying on modern data and modern community expectations about mental health."

Melanie Schleiger of Victorian Legal Aid, which provided Ingram with representation, claimed QBE's blanket policy excluding mental health claims was not based on evidence.

“There was no evidence that it considered any statistics, actuarial data or expert medical information about the risks presented by different types of mental illnesses when it created this travel insurance policy and decided to exclude all claims made because of a mental illness,” she said in a statement.

Harman said Beyondblue would now look to engage with the insurance industry to further entwine mental health considerations into their policies.

"We’re looking for a champion from the industry to come forward and help us develop a model mental health policy. This is a day where one girl stood up, stared a giant in the eye and said this isn't right," she said.

"We see examples of discrimination happening in workplaces still. This is not the only industry or circumstance, but this is a case which has exposed the lack of reliable data on which QBE assessed this claim."

"This is a landmark day. This gives us some case law that says there are consequences for this sort of behaviour. We’ll pore over this case to find our next steps... we need the insurance industry as a whole to wake up and work constructively to change, so there is never a case like this again."

Consumer Group CHOICE welcomed the tribunal's decision, their research showing that only 2 out of 35 of the most popular insurance providers covered any kind of claims relating to mental illness.

"This case is welcome news for mental illness sufferers seeking access to insurance products," CHOICE said in a statement.

"For QBE to knock back a young woman's travel insurance claim due to a general exclusion for mental health conditions, was at best mean spirited."

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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