SuperFriend chief executive Margo Lydon says the recommendations made by the federal government’s Productivity Commission into Mental Health could result in a new law that allows life insurers to support rehabilitation.

Currently, in Australia, there are legislative barriers to providing treatment to claimants.

For the first time, she argues, the government is seriously looking at mental health as being broader than just a health system problem.

At the time the inquiry was launched, Canberra said that the Productivity Commission would consider how mental illness can affect all aspects of a person’s quality of life, including physical health, social participation, education, employment and financial status.

“Governments don’t typically spend a lot of money on these inquiries without genuinely taking into consideration their recommendations,” Lydon says.

“That said, we are in a political cycle at the moment so we don’t know what the government will look like when the final report comes down in eighteen months’ time.”

Lydon points out there have “truckloads” of inquiries into the mental health system and each one flags that it is broken and needs to be reformed.

“The difference with this one is the Commission is looking at employment as a real opportunity to help people improve their mental health,” she adds.

“For the first time, we’ve got a much broader view and are looking at mental health through the productivity lens which has huge social as well as economic benefits to the country if we get it right.”

She points out that mental ill-health costs the Australian economy $70 billion a year.

Lydon’s comments follow the release of SuperFriend’s submission to the inquiry which has called on Canberra to take practical steps to improve mental health.

The workplace mental health and wellbeing partner for superannuation and insurance wants to see a cross-sector working group established to develop a national workplace initiative and industry-led implementation.

Cherry-picking 

Further, Lydon believes Australia should cherry-pick from models that have worked well in other countries. Insurers in Canada and the UK are allowed to fund treatment for mental illness.

“That in itself allows them to help people much more closely at the time of injury than further down the track – especially in the case of group life.”

As she sees it, changes to Australian legislation that enables payment for treatment would “get across the line a lot more easily” if the life industry did more to reassure both the government and the community. People need a sense of “how it will work in reality” to reassure and dispel some of the concerns they have about being under pressure to return to work.

She concedes the life industry is making progress by having allied health workers in the claims team and taking a multidisciplinary approach to claims but she argues there is further work to be done.

A recent change in the mental health space is the availability of more data from the life insurance due to APRAs compulsory data collection. This change gives much clearer insights into current mental health claims across the life industry.

“We are getting better data on the secondary causes of claim and the quantum of that I think can also help in getting people back to work and providing the support for rehabilitation that an individual will need,” Lydon says.

But capturing and collecting data is one thing, claims management and taking a person-centred approach to recovery is quite another.

According to the SuperFriend head, one of the problems for people with a mental health condition is that their ability to concentrate can often be impeded. So navigating the life insurance industry through claims process and navigating the mental health system through a health system process combined, can be very complex.

The Productivity Commission is also expected to examine the stressors and issues confronting people with mental health conditions when involved in an insurance schemes.

”Mental health is not easy. It’s a complex construct, and when you put a complex system inside another complex system like insurance, there is not going to be a fast fix.

SuperFriend acknowledges that Australians spend so much time at their workplace and there is a clear correlation between mentally healthy workplaces and improved mental health for individuals.

 

 

Elizabeth Fry has been a financial journalist for more than 25 years and has written for a number of publications, including CFO, The Financial Times and The Australian Financial Review.