Last days spent battling insurer
Do you always check the fine print on documents?
A terminally ill Bluff woman says her insurance company has denied her the right to die with dignity after refusing to pay her full life insurance cover because she had suffered from "depression" - despite her saying she had never been diagnosed with the condition.
Meg Bourke was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year and has spent much of her time battling with BNZ Life Insurance Ltd, instead of spending precious time with her family, she said.
In a letter to Mrs Bourke, BNZ Life refused to pay out full cover on the basis that she did not inform BNZ Life of a "material fact" relating to her medical history.
Mrs Bourke, who turns 60 this weekend, was sexually abused when she was 10 years old and given anti-depressants by a doctor when she was 14.
She believed the incident was irrelevant to her application, so she ticked "no" on the life insurance form, which asked whether she ever had a mental illness, central nervous system disorder, stress, depression or anxiety.
She said she had never suffered from those conditions and had no idea her doctor had mentioned anxiety and stress in her medical notes 46 years ago.
"Something nearly 50 years ago has come back to haunt me," she said.
The most stressful part of her fight with the insurance company was the constant requests for evidence to prove she had less than 12 months to live, she said.
"It's hard when you are being treated like a number," she said.
In a letter from Mrs Bourke's solicitor Roger Eagles to BNZ Life, he says: "What appears to be troubling you are notes dated June 30, 2006, when there was reference to an incident which occurred when she was a teenager after she had been sexually abused. Please note this lady is now 59 years old and what was recorded by the doctor was not a diagnosis . . . as far as she knows she has never been diagnosed with depression as a condition."
His letter says a person can occasionally feel depressed but not actually be suffering from the "condition" of depression.
Mrs Bourke said she gave up her fight with the insurance company last week and compromised to accept less than half of her payout because she did not want to leave her husband in debt when she died.
"When you are disabled by this disease, you don't have the energy to walk around the block, let alone fight," she said.
Mrs Bourke wanted to help other people avoid the same heartbreak before it was too late for them.
BNZ Life had denied her the right to die well, she said.
She urged people to read the fine print and get a copy of their medical records before filling in a form.
"It's too easy to lose half a policy by ticking a box," she said.
BNZ insurance bosses said if Mrs Bourke had ticked the "yes" box , she would have been entitled to less money, which is the amount paid out by BNZ.
BNZ Insurance chief operating officer Campbell Chambers said:
"We deeply sympathise with Mrs Bourke's situation. BNZ works hard to approve all genuine claims wherever we can. And in this case we have backdated the policy terms to those that would have been in place if all the facts had been disclosed".
He encouraged anyone taking out insurance to ensure they understood the policy and their obligation to provide full disclosure of all material facts about their health, work and pastimes.
"At the time of policy application, we advise the customer to answer all questions fully and correctly, to disclose all facts that might influence an insurer and to keep us informed up until the time the application is accepted".
Insurance and savings ombudsman Karen Stevens and banking ombudsman Deborah Battell advised consumers to disclose everything in an insurance policy and to attach medical records with an application. It was not possible for a consumer to disclose information they did not know about, which could make a difference in a case, she said.
Ms Stevens said non-disclosure was difficult for consumers to understand and advised people to seek advice.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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