Mental health has become an increasing concern for people around the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus has disrupted normality as we know it, causing mass uncertainty which, for some, is a potent cause of distress and anxiety. But the global pandemic is only highlighting and exacerbating an issue that has been top of mind for many organizations, including insurers, for some time. It’s in everyone’s best interest – individuals, insurers, governments and communities - when people are as physically and mentally healthy as possible.
While mental health is a large ticket item for insurance organizations, especially within their internal human resources, the industry is less developed when it comes to providing coverage to those who need it most, according to Neil Sprackling (pictured), president of Swiss Re’s Life & Health US Business and a member of the firm’s Americas Management Team.
“First and foremost, we need to raise the prominence of the role that insurance can play in helping consumers deal with mental health,” he told Insurance Business. “This is all about awareness and understanding. We need to get consumers to appreciate that insurance can provide them with essential support in managing their condition. There is often a perception that a history of mental health may preclude an individual from being accepted for life or disability insurance. This is not always the case. For life insurance, we can often offer terms to an applicant, albeit with an extra premium loading. For disability insurance, it may be possible to apply an extra premium rather than exclude the condition. I firmly believe that wherever possible insurers/reinsurers should do everything they can to offer terms, just as we do with other medical conditions. This is our fundamental role in making societies more resilient.”
Assistance from insurers/reinsurers for consumers with mental health conditions should go beyond just providing coverage, according to Sprackling. The industry veteran, who has over 30 years’ reinsurance experience spanning the UK, Spain, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, said companies must do a much better job of “helping consumers through the application process by looking at information beyond just the diagnosis,” for example, looking at how an individual manages their mental condition.
“This is particularly important for disability insurance,” Sprackling stressed. “Let’s work together to remove the consumer fear factor of applying for insurance in the first place. At the claims stage Swiss Re’s approach champions early intervention and holistic health management. This holistic approach is founded on the resounding international evidence base which demonstrates that work is generally health-supportive, and highlights the benefits of early, collaborative and work-focused intervention.”
According to Sprackling, there’s absolutely “no question that outcomes are better with early intervention” and treatment when a person is struggling with their mental health. Insurers and reinsurers can play a key role in that early intervention and personal health risk mitigation. Historically, the industry has been more focused on providing support to individuals at the claims stage, or prior to an imminent claim when people are struggling in work.
“Mental health issues are extremely common disorders around the world associated with severe morbidity and mortality,” he commented. “Studies indicate that numerous mental and physical conditions demonstrate a bi-directional relationship; when one has poor physical health, it’s made far worse by poor mental health.
“The mental health landscape presents an opportunity for the insurance industry to support personal health risk mitigation and early intervention by leveraging new tools to identify needs. For example, there are currently 1435 mental health apps available [via popular app stores iTunes and Google Play]. Insurers can work together with digital innovators by enhancing their apps and platforms and by bringing new solutions to populations they are already insuring. There is now a focus on seeing where and how we can offer support to policyholders when they’re well – which is where there is potential in the digital support space.”