SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state is suing the travel insurance company Allianz, saying that its policy of excluding mental health issues from coverage is discriminatory.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the company refused to cover 485 claims from Washington residents from January 2014 to August 2019, including cases where people had to cancel or change travel plans due to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis or due to a family member’s attempted suicide.
Ferguson said that violates state discrimination, insurance and consumer protection laws. Mental health disorders are considered disabilities under state law.
“Allianz unfairly discriminates against people with mental health disorders because their claims are denied when their condition prevents their travel, while claims are paid for those whose physical ailments disrupt their plans,” the Attorney General's Office said in a news release about the case.
Allianz did not immediately return an email seeking comment. Its website reads: “Not all illnesses and conditions can be covered by travel insurance.”
Among conditions that aren't covered, it lists: “A mental or nervous health disorder, as recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, including but not limited to Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, dementia, depression, neurosis, psychosis, or any related physical symptoms.”
According to the lawsuit, when the Attorney General's Office asked about the policy, Allianz responded that “in many circumstances it is difficult to fairly and objectively verify mental and nervous health disorders and to accurately assess the causal connection between a covered loss and a mental or nervous health disorder.”
But cases cited by Ferguson's office showed that claims were denied even when documentation from medical professionals was provided. Those included instances where an Olympia couple incurred $250 in airline ticket change fees due to their son's attempted suicide; where a Port Angeles family had to cancel a trip to Asia due to the son's hospitalization and subsequent outpatient treatment for a severe depressive episode; and where a Tacoma resident canceled a trip to Michigan due to severe anxiety.
One Vancouver man spent $27 on travel insurance after using a tax refund to buy his 9-year-old son a $458 airline ticket so the boy could visit him in summer 2019, the lawsuit said. The trip was canceled when the boy was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder two months later; his doctors said he shouldn't travel until he got used to his medications. Allianz denied the father's claim, and when the boy was able to travel again, the dad couldn't afford to buy him a second plane ticket.
The company told the state that said covering mental health events would likely force it to increase rates by 3.3% for its travel insurance policies, according to the lawsuit.
The state argued that mental health-related claims constitute a vanishingly small portion of Allianz's business — just 485 claims out of nearly 2.3 million policies sold in Washington since 2014.
Further, Allianz already does not enforce a mental health exclusion in Australia, where regulators have deemed it unlawful, the lawsuit said, but the company still manages to do business there.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, seeks restitution for the denied claims and an order barring Allianz from enforcing its policy in Washington.