Group insurers are paying out up to $200 million a year for mental illness claims and much of this could be prevented through early intervention and treatment. Some experts estimate the on-costs and opportunity-costs reach $30 billion. This gathering of government, mental health experts, counselling services, super funds and group insurer CommInsure discusses funds’ successes and failures in early detection and prevention. Government participation is crucial, but it must be integrated, well-funded and aimed at prevention rather than high-cost emergency, hospital-based care Roundtable participants were:

1. Antonella Hellier, program manager, SuperFriend 2. Damian Hill, CEO, REST Super 3. Patrick McGorry, professor of youth mental health, University of Melbourne, 2010 Australian of the Year 4. John Mendoza, director, ConNetica 5. Brad Morcombe, operations manager, Maritime Super 6. Lisa Munsie, executive manager business relationships, CommInsure 7. Bernard O’Connor, assistant CEO & company secretary, NGS Super 8. Dawn O’ Neil, CEO, Lifeline 9. Michael Rooney, general manager operations, MediaSuper 10. Chris Shipway, associate director Mental Health Clinical Policy, NSW Health 11. Colin Tate, executive director, Conexus Financial 12. Cameron Wood, Australian Catholic Super 13. Mark Woodward, head of group risk, CommInsure

14. Philippa Yelland, journalist, Investment Magazine Colin Tate: We have large super funds here today representing millions of Australians and these funds ideally have a cradle-to-grave relationship with the working Australian, not just a mandate for the financial retirement and well-being of their members. Most Australians only have life insurance and often income protection insurance through their super fund. Outside of their super fund, except for the wealthy, generally they don’t have insurance. The area that CommInsure looks after is what’s called group life: very large insurance plans that cover all the membership of funds such as REST. All 1.4 million members in one policy, and that would be underwritten by a CommInsure or one of their industry peers. So, insurance companies and super funds have been working closely together for some time on having SuperFriend help minimise claims and make positive social change. (Editor’s note: SuperFriend, the Industry Funds Forum Mental Health Foundation, is a national initiative to improve early prevention and response to mental illness and suicide. It brings together super funds, insurers and mental health organisations.) Chris Shipway: The mental health budget is currently 8.1 per cent of the New South Wales health budget.

That’s slightly down on what it was about 18 months ago. I think it was 8.4 per cent of the budget. There’s a lot of debate nationally and internationally about whether 8.1 per cent is the appropriate share of the state’s health budget. The highest claims for the mental health slice are around 10.3 per cent. You want to be somewhere between 8 and 10 per cent if you’re approaching international benchmarks. The mental health budget has been growing in real terms in New South Wales over the last five or six years. The really significant increase in the budget came around the 2005-06 financial year under Morris Iemma’s premiership, when at that point the budget grew nearly 10 per cent in real terms. The initiative that New South Wales Health is particularly proud of is the housing accommodation support initiative which is a partnership between the community-based NGO sector, New South Wales Housing, and Mental Health Services.

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