As My Health Record draws criticism and scrutiny, life insurers are cautious as to the merits of the initiative and its potential implications for the industry.
The e-health policy has hogged much media attention in the last fortnight as Federal members of parliament on both sides of the political spectrum voiced concerns about privacy issues; and in the wake of about 20,000 Australians opting out at the first opportunity two Mondays ago.
Currently life insurers are unable to access My Health Record data, alongside health insurers - which have been lobbying the Federal Government for secondary access. Life insurers are cautious as to how the data could be used to improve customer health and insurance efficiencies.
TAL general manager of health services Sally Phillips said the benefits of a health record accessible to both life insurers and treating doctors could provide health professionals with patient information they currently do not have.
"Life insurers may also have additional data that could be incorporated into the My Health Record. For example, data collected from standard insurance health assessment checks at policy application stage, could be added to the My Health Record, which may help treating doctors avoid having to request duplicate testing," Phillips said.
"In all cases this would only be possible with customers' full consent."
In a statement, MetLife Australia said it supported the Federal Government's initiatives to enable e-health capabilities in Australia, but said any information it obtained from said capabilities would only ever be based on the express consent of its customers.
However MetLife said if express consent was provided, it was likely the information accessible to the life insurer would provide a better understanding of a customer's condition, situation and prognosis, and mitigate the need for mandatory medical assessments and retesting. The insurer also said it was likely these enhancements would significantly reduce time in application, underwriting and claim processing, leading to faster outcomes for customers.
TAL agreed access to My Health Record could enhance underwriting and claims processes, but stressed the decision to share data from My Health Record would lie with the customer.
"At a high level, if customers were willing at the point of application to provide insurers with access to their entire My Health Record, it could enable certain efficiencies in the underwriting process, but this would depend on the customer's personal circumstances," Phillips said.
Phillips added the data could potentially help insurers gain insights into prevention and claims support programs, but echoed MetLife in stressing TAL's access to My Health Record data would be entirely dependent on what data customers agreed to share with their life insurer.
"In all cases, data sharing would only be done with customers' full consent and understanding," she said.
CommInsure head of claims strategy optimisation Ciaran Curley said a balance needed to be struck between information sharing and processing claims and applications in a timely way.
"Commlnsure will request additional information from a customer to assess a life insurance application or claim. We discuss with them what kind of information we need to process their application claim - ideally, they may have the information themselves and can provide it to us," Curley said.
"We need to strike the right balance around information sharing that works for customers, medical professionals and insurers, and which respects the privacy and interests of all parties while helping to process applications and claims in a timely way."
My Health Record is an online personal summary of key health information, which Australians can access and share with health professionals such as general practitioners, hospitals and pharmacies.
To access a factsheet on My Health Record, click here.