Need to know
- Transgender and gender-diverse Australians are facing discrimination when buying insurance products
- A new survey points to the issue being widespread and systemic
- Advocates are calling for the industry to improve their practices, policies and training
Peter* had his superannuation with VicSuper for a number of years, so when he wanted to take out income protection insurance, he naturally went to them.
During the quoting process in 2016 he told VicSuper he was transgender. The company refused to offer him a policy.
"It's awful, I just felt so ashamed, it made me feel terrible. I have kids, it made me feel like I couldn't set my family up in a way that would make them feel secure," he tells CHOICE.
"It's unjust, to take some of the most vulnerable people in the community and deny them a product that's meant to protect them."
A few years later Peter, a Melbourne-based lawyer, found a financial adviser who took up his cause, contacting a number of insurance providers to try and get him income protection insurance.
AIA offered him a plan that had a 50% extra premium loading due to "medical conditions"
Peter ended up going with AIA, but the deal had a catch. AIA offered him a plan that had a 50% extra premium loading due to "medical conditions". Peter had no pre-existing medical conditions and believes the only reason for the higher premium was because he is transgender.
"I found it pretty distressing to go through the whole process, but I wanted to suck it up to get things sorted now that I have kids," he said.
In response to questions sent by CHOICE about Peter's experience, VicSuper noted that they had merged with First State Super in 2020 and became Aware Super later that year. They added that they were committed to complying with all legislation including anti-discrimination laws.
"We absolutely apologise unreservedly for the experience we've left them with. We believe everyone should be treated with dignity and respect," says an Aware Super spokesperson.
AIA says, "We do not apply an automatic premium loading for transgender people. Instead, we make our underwriting decisions on an individual basis, based on the information provided to us during the application process."
Far from alone
Peter's experience is far from unique.
In what's believed to be the first study of how the insurance industry treats LGBTIQA+ Australians, the Victorian Pride Lobby recently surveyed people about their experiences with insurance companies.
Over 200 transgender and gender diverse-people took part in the survey, which delivered some damning results.
Nearly three quarters (74%) of transgender and gender-diverse respondents said they had experienced exclusion or discrimination when applying for an insurance product. An even higher number (77%) said they had experienced intrusive questioning when seeking insurance and only 40% said they thought they were generally treated fairly by insurance companies.
Nic Holas from the Victorian Pride Lobby says the results of the survey showed "unacceptable" behaviour from the insurance industry.
"We really hope that the industry takes it as a major wake up call, because all queer people deserve equal access to the services and these products," he says.
We really hope that the industry takes it as a major wake up call, because all queer people deserve equal access to the services and these productsNic Holas, Victorian Pride Lobby
The Victorian Pride Lobby's survey was commissioned by the InterInsurance Group, a network of LGBTIQA+ and professional allies from Australia's largest insurers.
"This report will enable the group to develop a roadmap to provide LGBTIQA+ customers with improved experiences and greater support. The InterInsurance Group is committed to making lasting change for LGBTIQA+ insurance customers and ensuring that everyone has fair access to the benefits and protections of insurance," says an InterInsurance Group spokesperson.
Holas says it's heartening that some within the insurance industry are trying to bring about change.
"I'd have to say that the industry as a whole is sitting up and paying attention. And our hope is that this serves as a roadmap for reform, which is long overdue," he says.
When Melbourne trans man JJ McCarthy bought a new car last year, he wanted to take out car insurance. JJ's drivers license lists his gender as male, but his birth certificate shows his assigned gender at birth as female. He was concerned that the difference could cause problems in the event of an insurance claim.
The terms and conditions of the car insurance policies he reviewed said that the insurance provider could ask for a range of identity documents, including birth certificates, and deny a claim if the applicant had been dishonest in the application process.
I refuse to be strong-armed by an insurance company to change my birth certificate, when I'm not ready toJJ McCarthy
JJ called over a dozen car insurance providers hoping to get a written guarantee that the differences between his gender markers on the two documents wouldn't be used against him. None were willing to provide such a guarantee.
"Pretty much every insurance company says go with what you're comfortable with when it comes to gender. But press them a little bit harder and none of them will give you the reassurance that you will be insured if you do that," he says.
"I refuse to be strong-armed by an insurance company to change my birth certificate, when I'm not ready to," says JJ.
JJ McCarthy was unable to get a car insurance provider to promise to cover him in writing (Image: Jarni Blakkarly).
CHOICE sent details of Peter and JJ's stories to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission along with a series of questions. Aram Hosie, a spokesperson for the Commission, said they were "extremely concerned" to hear that trans and gender-diverse people had reported experiencing discrimination when applying for insurance.
"The Victorian Equal Opportunity Act makes it illegal for insurers to discriminate against people on the basis of their gender identity unless there is a good reason based on fact, such as strong actuarial or statistical data relating to potential risk," says Hosie.
"Insurers must treat consumers fairly and lawfully and a person's gender identity should not stop them from accessing the same services as everyone else. Trans and gender-diverse people should not be blanketly excluded from accessing insurance," he adds.
They must stop selling trans and non-binary people products they can't use or charging them more for products they do useCHOICE campaigns and policy adviser Dean Price
CHOICE also sent detailed questions to the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA), the industry representative body. The ICA declined to be interviewed or provide any written response.
CHOICE senior campaigns and policy advisor Dean Price says it's clear discrimination against trans and gender-diverse people is "systemic" in the insurance industry and needs to be fixed.
"They must stop selling trans and non-binary people products they can't use or charging them more for products they do use. The insurance industry needs to improve its approach and proactively address the deficiencies in their processes," says Price.
Not all transgender and gender-diverse people have negative experiences with the insurance industry.
Taj Burrows is a non-binary person based in Sydney, who has been with the health insurance provider Health Insurance Fund of Australia since 2016. Last year when they had gender affirming surgery to remove breast tissue they said HIF were incredibly helpful and covered their hospital admission claim with no issues.
"On the forms they have a non-binary option which is great and I have only had such positive experiences with them," says Taj.
Some in the industry are miles ahead of others when it comes to inclusive and non-discriminatory practices
While Taj's experience shows some in the industry are miles ahead of others when it comes to inclusive and non-discriminatory practices and policies, the Pride Lobby says industry-wide training is needed to improve customer service as well as policies.
Customers like JJ, however, still have no certainty. He ended up taking a car insurance policy with a SunCorp affiliated brand and says he now has to simply hope they don't try and use his gender against him in the case of a claim.
"You take out insurance for peace of mind, and I don't have that, do I? " he says.
*not his real name
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.