ANZ Wealth is making inroads with its newly launched mental health initiatives, including innovative and preventative programs aiming for the life insurer to play a more active role in the space.
According to ANZ Wealth head of mental health and wellness, life insurance, Maria Falas, the insurance sector will continue to significantly transform over the next two years in response to the growing mental health issues affecting Australians.
Mental health and wellness issues are transforming the insurance sector, with more than 23% of income protection claims now involving a mental health condition, she said.
"Our sector must evolve so it can meet the changing expectations of customers and their needs. There is now an enhanced focus on wellness across the developed world, which is a valuable opportunity for insurers to create deeper and more lasting relationships with customers," she said.
"By focusing on mental and physical wellness, insurers can help provide a pathway to better health for consumers and a more meaningful role in their customers' wellbeing."
According to the Federal Government's Mindframe National Media Initiative, which raises awareness on suicide and mental illness in the media, approximately one-in-five Australians experience mental illness every year.
Falas said because the impact of mental health conditions on the community are better communicated and understood today, there is greater demand for insurers to provide more support upstream when customers are well.
"We are continuing our work to better support our customers across the life of a policy to include mental health and wellness, with a focus on health continuum and prevention. We consider our customer offering for early engagement in mental health claims to be market leading," she said.
In November 2017, OnePath launched its mental health coaching pilot for OneCare income protection customers in partnership with Remedy Healthcare.
Customers lodging income protection claims relating to depression or anxiety will be offered a Remedy Healthcare MindStep program, a phone-based, tailored and complementary support program.
They will also be offered the support of a Caseworks registered nurse to visit their home and guide them through their claim application process.
In its life insurance whitepaper released last year, ANZ said the rise in mental health claims, particular across the developed world, is in part the result of a positive social change, with people now more willing to recognise and address mental health issues.
"However, it also reflects the challenges of re-entering the workforce at a time of increasing complexity, and the effects of social isolation on those unexpectedly left unable to work. Many claimants cease work due to a physical condition, then remain out of the workforce as a result of consequential mental-health impacts," it said.
In Australia, mental illness claims have played a significant part in the rising cost of disability insurance.
"This suggests insurers need to proactively cater for mental health issues with targeted support programs and clear and accurate definitions, avoiding what advocacy group Beyond Blue has described as a one-size-fits all approach that "conflates mental health symptoms with mental health conditions and lumps all mental health conditions together as a homogenous group," it read.
This week's Budget unveiled an $82.5 million package to improve access to mental health services; $20 million to support older Australians remain socially connected to their communities and $22.9 million to promote increased physical activity.
In a bid to prioritise mental health, $37.6 million allocated over four years from 2018-19 will improve follow-up care for people discharged from hospital following a suicide attempt.
About $10.5 million of this will go to non-profit group beyondblue to provide national support and oversee the implementation of the Way Back Support Service (WBSS) in Primary Health Networks.
Insurance group AIA Australia has been urging the Federal Government to allow life insurers to fund early intervention and treatment for mental health conditions.
AIA Australia and New Zealand chief executive Damien Mu said the legislative barriers that restrict life insurers from funding medical treatments for mental health conditions must be overhauled.