Industry urged to account for mental illness care advances

Life insurers must change their thinking on mental health as treatments advance, a doctor has told a parliamentary joint committee hearing on the industry.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Bastian Seidel told the committee mental health is now the most prevalent condition in Australia, overtaking cardiovascular disease and, more recently, dementia.

“So, of course, I’m not surprised there are quite significant claims based on mental health conditions,” he said.

“I also would like the insurance industry to be a bit more sophisticated in their thinking.

“Just because you have a diagnosis of a medical condition, it doesn’t mean your prognosis is poor. Science and medicine advance.”

He says 50 years ago a heart condition was seen as a death sentence, but now life expectancy is almost the same as in a healthy person.

“I have patients who’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder,” he said.

“I would say 30 years ago the prognosis of bipolar disorder probably wasn’t as good as it is now, but we have more modern medication available, better support networks, [and] we have psychologists out there.”

Because such patients see their doctors on a more regular basis, other medical issues are picked up and treated.

“[If a person was] to be penalised because of a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, this would be entirely inappropriate, because we know their life expectancy is probably much better compared to what we expected when they were first diagnosed decades ago.”

Dr Seidel says insurers must consider advances in care and treatment.

“We are inviting the insurance company to ask for that particular context, to take it into consideration and to ask for knowledge, and the knowledge should be provided by the treating doctor, and it should not just be a line on a piece of paper that’s a diagnosis.

“Patients with depression function perfectly well when they are supported with access to treatment and support.”