Industry Stakeholder Slams Biased Coverage of Insurance Claim


Well-known New Zealand life insurance industry contributor, Russell Hutchinson, has taken aim at what he sees as the unfair coverage of a life insurance claim issue by consumer affairs TV program, Fair Go:

Was it a Fair Go?

In May the TV One show “Fair Go” ran stories in two episodes covering the story of a client who had his claim declined by Partners Life because he was found to have non-disclosed in his application form.

The Fair Go team focused on the fact of the decline, the premiums paid, and the complexity of medical questions in their segments. They produced a montage of clips of different members of their staff and others struggling to read the names of different medical conditions. While there are some significant problems with medical disclosures, the show, and this case in particular, did not do a good job of highlighting them.

Chatswood Consulting’s, Russell Hutchinson

See the video here.

Fair Go passed up several opportunities they had to balance the story, or explain to viewers why disclosure is important, so that they can avoid the same problem. For example, the programme did not dwell on the reasons for the claim decline. Fair Go chose to ignore the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman decision to side with the insurer in declining the claim. They also did not explore the reasons for the answer given to the relevant question, including the questions specifically asking about “… sleep disorders (e.g. chronic insomnia or obstructive sleep apnoea etc)” when they explained on the show that the client used a device to aid sleep. 

Bruce Cortesi, former chairperson of the Professional Advisers Association, wrote an open letter to Fair Go to complain about the coverage, posting it on their Facebook page. You can find the letter at this link.

Fair Go responded by deleting comments supportive of the letter and pointing out that Cortesi is ‘conflicted’. It is true that Cortesi derives income from the profession and therefore has a financial interest in its reputation. It is also true that he has nothing at stake in this particular case. You might also consider the mechanism by which shows like Fair Go stay on air – achieving high ratings – and the conflicts that can produce, too. It is a reminder that the hardest conflicts to notice are one’s own. In that spirit, you need to know that almost all of my income is derived from consulting to a wide range of insurers and insurance advisers, including Partners Life. That is bound to shape some of my views.

“…the hardest conflicts to notice are one’s own.”

Subsequent to the show being aired, and the follow-up in which Minister Faafoi appeared to discuss the launch of insurance contract law review consultation, there has been more news. It was disclosed recently in the media that Partners Life has reinstated the policy on the basis of evidence given by the doctor that the medical records were wrong.

Should doctors now be concerned that Fair Go will devote substantial air time in two episodes calling for reform to address errors in record-keeping? I doubt it. Also, I don’t think it would be helpful, in the same way as the previous episodes attacking insurers were unhelpful.

There is a better story here, one which could really help everyone concerned, and is a genuine solution to the real problems of disclosure. The problem, of course, is that it may not rate as well as a typical Fair Go story.

There is a consumer-focused movement for ‘open banking’ allowing consumers to direct that data their banks hold can be transferred to other service providers – enabling more effective budgeting apps, for example. Were we to have an equivalent ‘open health’ movement it would reduce the requirement for complex questions to be asked – and enable the data to be corrected more easily when found to be wrong.

RiskinfoNZ thanks Russell for this article, which he has stressed is based only on information available in the public domain.