A Hidden Option

A claims advocacy leader is urging Wimmera, Malee and Grampians residents to be aware of hidden insurance to help pay for healthcare throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many financially stressed workers and the newly unemployed are feeling the pinch of reduced income and are trading off their health care for essentials like food on the table, yet most would not realise they have a hidden insurance to pay for their care in a crisis like COVID-19.

Figures from the Melbourne Institute’s national survey shows that up to 32 per cent of financially stressed Australians were not seeking necessary health care in June, with the majority of them needing treatment for a new condition. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the mental health sector where calls to free helplines like Beyond Blue have gone up by 66 per cent compared to this time last year.

Bruno Muraca, chief executive officer for AFRM Claims Advocacy (ACA) said COVID-19 pandemic was causing double jeopardy in the treatment of mental health. At a time when unemployment and underemployment were causing home disharmony, anxiety and depression, many Australians were too financially stretched to pay for the treatment of that stress and anxiety. The affordability of mental health care in a crisis had a spiralling impact which could add to the recovery time or wind-back previous treatment.

“Consumers with a mental health illness should not be placed in a position that has them trade-off food on the table versus ongoing treatment,” Mr Muraca said.

He said an existing practical solution to help consumers afford mental health treatment could be found in a line in their superannuation policy that many overlooked - personal insurance benefits.

“For many of us, superannuation personal insurance is like that money you hid under the mattress for a rainy day and forgot about, well it is raining now and it’s time to lift the mattress,” Mr Muraca said.

He said some superannuation provided personal insurance including income protection, total permanent disablement and death insurance, which policyholders might be able to access to pay for their health care.

“Given the compulsory nature of superannuation, if a client has worked or has even ceased working, they may be able to access their insurance within their superannuation which could help pay for their treatment,” Mr Muraca said.

A claimant does not need to be permanently impaired to gain access to the insurance which will not affect their overall retirement nest egg.

“But who is telling consumers? Awareness of personal insurance in superannuation is only around 30 per cent. Not knowing they can access and afford help, heightens anxiety and the community has seen a jump in suicides by 25% on last year.

In addition, often those that try to claim on their insurance end up abandoning their claim and their recovery. It becomes too difficult. Trying to pick your way through the process with a mental health condition could exacerbate the condition you are trying to claim for,” he said.

Mr Muraca pointed to an ASIC report which found up to 50 per cent of claimants withdrew their claims in the first 60 days as they tried to balance the claim with their recovery. ASIC said “claim fatigue” as a factor.

Mr Muraca said AFRM Claims Advocacy helped clients navigate the tricky area of personal insurance claims.

“We help people who are not able to work due to an injury or illness and help them navigate the complex world of personal insurance claims,” Mr Muraca said. “We help them afford ongoing treatment and restore their sense of purpose and contribution,” he said.

AFRM Claims Advocacy welcomed government policy and the health sector moves to improve access to treatments but the need was urgent now, Mr Muraca said.

“Anyone who has sought out a mental health professional’s care will tell you they often first seek care when they are in personal crisis, and right now we have nearly 1 million unemployed in Australia taking a toll on their mental health, so many are in financial crisis. It is hard to think of a crisis more worthy of dipping into an insurance policy on your superannuation,” Mr Muraca said. “A mental health illness does not discriminate. Whilst Australia is doing a good job of increasing awareness of the illness and of the help available, we now need to increase the awareness of how to afford help,” he said.

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