When Peta Friend applied for funeral insurance she was told by the young employee she spoke to on the phone that she could not be listed as female on the policy.
- A report commissioned by the insurance industry has found widespread discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people
- The discrimination and exclusion ranged from being misgendered to denied insurance products
- The insurance industry says it will consider the recommendations
“In the air of openness, I really wanted to just let them know that I was assigned male at birth, but had gone through that social and legal change of being recognised as a woman,” Ms Friend said.
“It came as a shock to see that she (the insurance company employee) had assigned me as male — and she wasn’t budging on that.”
It took a complaint to management for the issue to eventually be resolved.
It is not the first time the 60-year-old transgender woman has come up against discrimination when applying for insurance products – just the most recent example.
“It’s incredibly frustrating for myself and my community,” she said.
Ms Friend has also had trouble accessing income protection insurance and was required to sit psychiatric assessments because of being transgender.
“A lot of people in the insurance world still see being transgender as a mental illness,” she said.
“It’s not enough just to have a rainbow flag on your website.
A new national survey of LGBTQIA+ people found that although two-thirds of respondents had experienced excellent service when dealing with insurance companies, almost one in two (47 per cent) reported discrimination or exclusion when applying for insurance.
Of those who reported experiencing exclusion and discrimination, rates were higher among those who identified as trans and gender diverse, people living with HIV, people with a variation of sex characteristics, and sex workers.
Types of discrimination and exclusion ranged from being misgendered to denied insurance policies.
Two in five respondents had experienced difficulty updating information, and three-quarters of trans and gender-diverse respondents said they had difficulty self-declaring their gender.
Just over two in five respondents had been reluctant to make an insurance claim.
The Victorian Pride Lobby survey, Worth the Risk, was commissioned by the insurance industry’s InterInsurance Group, which is made up of LGBTQIA+ insurance industry employees and allies from 15 companies.
The survey of 500 LGBTQIA+ people asked about their experience with the following types of insurance products: life, health, car and vehicle, travel, business, home building and contents.
Insurance industry ‘stuck in 1992’
Nic Holas from the Victorian Pride Lobby said the report’s findings would not come as a surprise to those from the LGBTQIA+ community.
“We found that people experiencing discrimination or issues at various points of their journey accessing insurance, applying online, in being rejected for products, or as well along the way when making insurance claims.”
Many insurance types are “risk rated” and influenced by personal factors.
Under federal and state sex discrimination laws, insurers cannot deny insurance to customers based on their gender identity, sexual orientation, or sex characteristics.
However, discrimination law expert Liam Elphick, from Monash University, said insurers had exemptions to discriminate when writing the terms of a person’s policy if the discrimination was based reasonably upon actuarial or statistical data.
“For instance, that’s why insurers can charge higher premiums for younger men when it comes to car insurance, because statistically they are more likely to cause a car accident than other demographics in society,” Mr Elphick, who is also a policy adviser to the Victorian Pride Lobby, said.
The Australian Human Rights Commission provides guidelines on when discrimination is not reasonable.
It includes refusing to insure someone because the provider does not have any data, or refusing to insure people because of historical practice or based on stereotypes, or imputing a disability or medical condition not disclosed by a person.
Mr Elphick said the Victorian Pride Lobby’s findings suggested not every insurance provider was doing the right thing.
“It’s always shocking to see the high levels of discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people anywhere in society and insurance seems to be no different,” he said.
“We also saw examples of good practice that should be adopted by industry, but we need better transparency on what data insurers are relying on to make certain decisions around inclusions and exclusions.”
Mr Holas also has firsthand experience of discrimination when dealing with insurance companies.
As a person living with HIV, he has struggled to access travel insurance.
On his most recent overseas trip, to World Pride in New York in 2019, he had to rely on his community networks to find a HIV friendly-insurance provider.
His partner, who does not have HIV, was able to obtain cheaper travel insurance through a major provider.
HIV used to be considered a death sentence, but these days advancements in medical treatment mean those living with the disease can have a normal life expectancy.
Mr Holas said respondents with HIV also reported being rejected from life insurance policies.
“We’re still being asked about unprotected anal sex when applying for life insurance, like that’s going to have some bearing on whether or not we’re able to access those products,” he said.
“It seems, broadly speaking, the insurance industry’s understanding of HIV is stuck in 1992 and we’re all the way here in 2022.
“So much has changed. And it’s time for the industry to update its knowledge and information as well.”
What’s the solution?
The Worth the Risk report makes 24 recommendations to improve LGBTQIA+ inclusion among insurance providers.
It said the changes needed to be led by industry peak bodies the Insurance Council of Australia and the Financial Services Council.
Some of the recommendations are for insurers to provide publicly available information on whether and how LGBTQIA+ people are covered by their insurance policies, inclusion training for staff, and calls for the Financial Services Council to update its life insurance code of conduct to include more explicit guidance on vulnerable customers including members of LGBTQIA+ community.
The Pride Lobby is also calling for updated HIV underwriting guidelines, actuarial and statistical data to reflect current medical advice, a consistent approach to risk rating based on sex and gender, along with the removal of unnecessary exclusions or premium loadings.
The Financial Services Council (FSC), which represents superannuation funds and life insurers, was unavailable for an interview.
However, a spokeswoman for FSC said in a statement: “This report flags important issues with the treatment of LGBTQIA+ consumers.”
She added that an updated life insurance code of practice would be released shortly “… after extended public consultation and [it] goes some way to address these concerns, although the industry recognises there is always room to improve”.
Insurance Council backs changes to HIV risk
Insurance Council chief executive Andrew Hall backed the report’s calls for data used to inform policies for people with HIV to be updated.
“I think areas like HIV need to be reconsidered,” he said.
“I think we need to look at them very carefully because it’s clearly now a chronic disease, and perhaps some of these areas haven’t been updated for a number of years. And I think it’s something that insurers should take a look at.”
Mr Hall said the industry had commissioned the report to better understand where it could do better and would now work through the recommendations.
“It’s a case that when people do take out some of these products, some uncomfortable questions can be asked — but how they’re asked, and how they’re treated with sensitivity is very important,” he added.
Mr Holas said the underwriters who dictated the terms for the insurance industry needed to have a look at the science and data they used to model the underwriting of the insurance industry as a whole.
“That’s a pretty big project,” he said.
“We know that’s not going to happen overnight but we’re really excited that this report has come from within the industry, to give us the opportunity for them to advocate for those changes.”
Mr Holas said the insurance industry could change the way it interacted with LGBTQIA+ people.
“I really hope that the excitement from within the industry about this report signals a real race to the top,” he said.