Many Private Insurance Companies Don’t Cover Costs Associated With Failed Suicide Attempts

With all the advances we’ve made when it comes to mental health treatment and reducing the lingering stigma, there’s something in the fine print that is pretty backwards.

To put it bluntly, if you fail at your suicide attempt, you may be forced to pay your own medical expenses out of pocket.

Deep within the fine print of employee and individual health insurance plans of leading insurers like Manulife, SunLife, Desjardins, and Great-West Life is the ability to deny coverage for costs associated with attempted suicide or intentionally self-inflicted injuries.

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Some policies even specify that the exclusions apply whether the person is “sane or insane” at the time.

While public health insurance covers most hospital expenses, additional treatment for things like psychotherapy, medication, and physiotherapy is not included in many private and employee benefit plans.

CBC News exposed the information in a recent investigation. When contacted by CBC News, the insurance companies responded through their umbrella organization with some pretty unsettling reasoning:

“The general purpose of insurance is to protect people in the event of an unexpected injury or illness, and not for losses which result from the insured person’s deliberate actions.”

Think of the state of mind you need to be in to actively try to end your life. People don’t resort to suicide attempts for attention, recreation, or because they think that it won’t work.

Most of the time, they do so because the terrifying grip of mental illness has left them with the feeling that it’s the only remaining option. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, mental illness is believed to be a factor in approximately 90 per cent of suicides in Canada.

Five and a half years ago, one of my close girlfriends chose to end her life. I’ve since had discussions with survivors of suicide attempts. They all have two things in common: a sense of gratitude to be alive, and a desire to “get better,” or at least maintain a sense of emotional stability. Not many of them have a large wad of cash stashed away for rehabilitation costs.

The added pressure to pay for such things out of pocket just seems unethical for an already vulnerable population.

Sadly, it’s not exactly a small population either: mental health professionals estimate up to 80,000 Canadians try to kill themselves each year.

It’s time companies put pressure on insurance giants to alter this policy.

When it comes to mental health initiatives, the awareness is finally there. With each new person who “comes out” about their personal struggles publically (as many of my social media friends have), the stigma erodes a little further. Campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk – with its famous faces front and centre – have put mental health in the spotlight for Canadians like never before.

But, like the infamous Kevin Breel (“The Depressed Comic”) told me on Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day, awareness without action is just awareness. Action needs to be taken, from the elementary school system to the workplace, to protect those who suffer – and insurance policy is not without its role in the equation.

It’s time.

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