After an ABC Four Corners-Fairfax investigation claimed this week that CommInsure – the life insurance arm of the Commonwealth Bank – encouraged doctors to redraft medical diagnoses to avoid payouts to sick and dying people, the Turnbull government has asked ASIC to investigate the matter.
The victims’ cases shown on Four Corners on Monday included that of Helen Polydoropoulos – an employee of CommInsure until she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2011.
One of four million CommInsure policy holders, Ms Polydoropoulos was ‘ill-health retired’ from the bank and advised by its chief medical adviser, Dr Colin Johnston, to claim for “total and permanent disability”. Despite the doctor’s advice when it came to lodging her claim, it was rejected – on the basis that she was fit for work.
Ms Polydoropoulos attempted to seek further guidance and clarification from Dr Johnston, who signed both her letter of medical retirement and the rejection letter from CommInsure, but to no avail. He refused to return her calls.
After being contacted by Four Corners, the doctor said that he had acted “on the advice of specialists”, and within days CommInsure had offered a settlement to Ms Polydoropoulos.
Her story is typical of the way the company put profits before the wellbeing of those insured – until forced to radically revise its decisions in light of media scrutiny.
Another victim whose story was told in the Four Corners program was that of 37-year-old IT worker Evan Pashalis.
Mr Pashalis made a claim against his life insurance policy when diagnosed with terminal leukaemia in 2014.
Even though two doctors found he was unlikely to live more than 12 months and a third gave him a 30 per cent chance of living a year, when Mr Pashalis lodged a terminal illness claim with CommInsure it was repeatedly rejected until the investigative program contacted the bank.
“They figured, well, there might be a slight chance he survives, so why pay him?” Mr Pashalis told the ABC.
Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer said that the government is seeking an urgent report from the corporate regulator into the incidents raised by the investigation.
Meanwhile Shadow Financial Services Minister Jim Chalmers said the government should consider a royal commission.
“There are millions of Australians who are potentially impacted,” he said.
“No Australian should be treated in the despicable, appalling, inhumane way like those people featured in that program.”