ITIC APAC Review: Mental health post Covid-19

Kim’s presentation focused on the issue of mental health discrimination in health insurance policies, with the aim of helping local insurers in the APAC region to be more inclusive.

She began, though, by pointing out the prevalence of mental health disorders currently in the world: “In 2019, one in every eight people, or 970 million people, around the world, were living with some form of mental disorder with anxiety, and depression is the most common. The number of people living with an anxiety and depressive disorder rose significantly because of Covid-19. It shows a 28-per-cent increase for anxiety and major depressive disorder.” In Asia specifically, nations such as China, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam face huge economic insecurities due to the pandemic, resulting in an increased suicide rate. “There are some insurers in the market offering some benefits of treatments of mental health issues for health insurance policies,” said Kim, “but these are often inadequate for travel policies. With the exceptions of Australia’s market, insurers in Asia are still excluding mental health condition on cover.”

“Evolving regulatory requirements in many markets are requiring travel insurers to provide cover that is more inclusive of pre-existing medical conditions, including mental health conditions,” she said, explaining the case from Australia that forced the industry to change and include mental health conditions in their policies. The need for mental health conditions to be included in travel insurance policies came as a result of a legal challenge from a customer who was refused reimbursement from the insurer upon trying to claim cancellation costs after she become too depressed to travel. The initial step as a result of the findings was for the ‘blanket exclusion’ relating to mental health conditions to be removed from the PDSs of Australian travel insurers. This change left Australian insurers with a new challenge.

“What has happened in Australia,” Kim added, “can apply to the rest of APAC.” One in three insurers in Asia do not cover mental health services currently, but with the help of accurate risk rating tools, insurers can understand the risk and underwrite them properly.

There followed a case study that looked at how one of Australia’s largest insurers used Verisk’s Risk Rating Tool to enhance its ability to offer cover to people with mental health conditions and improve customer satisfaction. “Pre-existing mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety,” Kim told attendees, “can be approached in the same way as physical health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.”

As the global population attempts to move on from the pandemic, one of its longest-lasting legacies is going to be on people’s mental wellbeing, so it is vital that insurers are able to respond to the need for travel insurance for this population, not just to comply with regulatory requirements.

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