Mental Health and Insurance

Claire Bosworth is a trustee for Footsteps Counselling & Care alongside her career working in Insurance & Risk for a leading consulting engineering firm, Hoare Lea.

Back in November, The Sunday Times published an article on Why Covid stress or a miscarriage could stop you getting insurance. Workers seeking income protection are finding that a single phone call to a counsellor can rule them out.

There were a number of statements from insurance brokers and case examples in the article that gave cause for concern for the Footsteps Counselling & Care team. As a charity whose focus is to provide compassionate counselling and care for anyone in the Gloucestershire area affected by pregnancy-related issues, the loss of a baby for any reason, traumatic birth, fertility problems and pregnancy-related mental health issues, mental health is top of our agenda, and to think that we may have clients who are unable to find insurance cover because they sought counselling following a miscarriage is troubling.

As an Insurance & Risk Manager myself, I can see both sides of the fence, and I’d start by saying the key to all of this is context. If you want backing from an insurance policy, it is completely justified for an insurer to ask questions which assess your individual risk factors. It is important to note that it is unlikely that a mild mental health condition will be the sole reason that someone does not receive cover. But it’s also important for people seeking insurance to understand how the insurer has arrived at their conclusion about your insurability too.

While the article itself detailed examples where some individuals had been denied an insurance claim based on previous medical history, what was missing from The Times article was the extent of the work and the involvement of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) in responding to this problem. ABI’s purpose is to get the right people together to help inform public policy debates, engage with politicians, policymakers and regulators at home and abroad and encourage consumer understanding of the insurance sector’s products and practices.

The ABI has created a set of standards to provide support to individuals with mental health conditions when buying certain insurance products. (Health, Travel, Protection policies) The four elements of these standards are:
● Improving accessibility by providing support to customers who may need help completing the application form and offering two or more choices of how a customer can communicate with their insurer.
● Supporting customers throughout their application by explaining the process and why questions are being asked.
● Standardising communication with customers by removing technical language, making any exclusions clear and signposting consumers to relevant support services.
● Increasing transparency around decision making by explaining to customers, upon request, what evidence was used to inform the insurer’s decision on cover and a commitment from insurers to regularly review their underwriting approach for mental health conditions.
Ref: (2020).

The ABI has given insurers until 31 December 2021 to implement these standards. The ABI has worked with mental health campaigners and its members to produce these standards as well as an insurance guide for customers, hosted on Mental Health UK’s Mental Health and Money Advice site. This is a really positive shift change, not just for Footsteps Counselling & Care clients but for anyone with concerns about their mental health. The events of 2020 created much uncertainty and what isn’t clear yet is the long-term impact of mental health as a result of Covid. It’s possible that the mental health consequences of the pandemic could be much longer lasting than the pandemic itself.

Good risk management doesn’t just rely on risk transfer mechanisms such as insurance, we all have a part to play to mitigate risks before it gets to an insurance claim. Footsteps Counselling & Care services help clients avoid the need to claim on insurance policies by providing the timely support they need to process traumatic experiences and if you’re unsure as to where to start when considering insurance coverage, the ABI are a great source of information and guidance. You can visit the ABI’s website for more information about the standards, or the Mental Health and Money Advice Insurance Guide – here you can find information on the type of coverage you may need, how to find the right insurer, a list of specialist insurance providers for people with mental health conditions, what your rights are and how to make a complaint about an insurer. If you are experiencing challenges finding cover, it might be worth speaking to a specialist financial adviser.