Insurers' stance on mental health called into question

Advocates in Quebec are speaking out against insurers' denials in a 'semi-#metoo moment'

Insurers' stance on mental health called into question

An author’s protest following the denial of his disability claim is shining a spotlight on insurers’ attitudes towards mental illness.

Last fall, Giller Prize-nominated novelist and professor Samuel Archibald was forced to take leave from his job at Université du Québec à Montréal as he was suffering from depression. According to a report in The Toronto Star, the school’s insurance provider, Desjardins, refused his disability claim.

It wasn’t until earlier this month that Archibald learned why: according to his doctor, the company had seen Facebook and Instagram posts showing him exercising, taking care of his children, and generally looking like a happy person.

“They said, ‘You’re active, you’re in shape, you don’t look sick,’” Archibald told the Star. “It was the moment that I became angry.”

Since then, Archibald has made several media appearances and published an opinion piece in Montreal’s La Presse. He said he’s received an outpouring of support from people who’ have also been denied a mental health claim, while others have dropped the insurer in solidarity, in what he calls a “semi-#metoo moment for the insurance industry.”

The Collège des médecins du Québec, which represents doctors in the province, has called on the insurance industry to trust the assessments of front-line physicians rather than submit cases to their own roster of doctors who are paid to pick claims apart. Meanwhile, the Quebec wing of the Canadian Union of Public Employees has called for the creation of an independent review board to assess disability claims within the province.

According to David Brannen, disability lawyer and founder of the firm Resolute Legal, depression, anxiety, and burnout are the most common reasons for medical leave among so-called “higher-value claimants” such as doctors, lawyers, bankers, professors, and business people. Because disability claims among this group are the most costly, insurers are most likely to initiate physical and online surveillance to verify their claims.

“Insurers will say to the client that if you’re out and around … then you must be well enough to work, but that’s not true,” Brannen said, noting that going out and socializing is widely recommended for mental-health problems like depression and stress.

In a statement, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association acknowledged that social media surveillance does occur, but is not used as the only piece of evidence in determining claims. Andrew Monkhouse, founder of Toronto employment law firm Monkhouse Law, noted that there’s an incentive for companies to deny claims.

“That being said, sometimes they might not do it on grounds that seem particularly fair,” Monkhouse said.


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