Oral Presentation FCIC Survivorship Conference 2013

Insurance, discrimination and the law - protecting rights of cancer survivors (#28)

Sondra Davoren 1 2
  1. McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, Carlton, VIC, Australia
  2. Strategy and Support Division, Cancer Council Victoria, Carlton, VIC, Australia

Outcomes for cancer patients, their experiences of cancer and those of their families and health professionals, are impacted by the law in multiple ways. 

 Access to insurance (particularly life and travel insurance) is a significant issue for people who have finished active treatment for cancer.  For some cancer survivors, accessing insurance coverage can be problematic, due to their medical history or pre-existing conditions, and the denial of insurance can severely hamper cancer survivors’ ability to participate in areas such as employment, travel and home ownership.

 Cancer survivors are protected from discrimination—including in relation to the provision of insurance—under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, (the Act) which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.  Cancer is included in the definition of disability in the Act.

Protection under the Act includes protection from discrimination based on past, imputed or future disabilities; thus a cancer survivor who is discriminated against because they previously had cancer, or because they are wrongly thought to still have cancer, or because they may develop cancer symptoms again in future, can avail themselves of the protection offered under the Act.

In a 2004 case, Bassanelli v QBE Insurance, the Federal Court upheld the protection from discrimination in the Act, when it held that a person cannot be discriminated against for having a pre-existing condition—in this case, cancer—when the insurance sought did not relate to the condition. 

Although Bassanelli concerned protection under Commonwealth anti-discrimination law, the states and territories have their own anti-discrimination laws to protect cancer survivors from discrimination.

Using access to insurance as a focal point, this paper outlines the protections for cancer survivors in Australian federal, state and territory anti-discrimination laws.  It briefly compares the development of anti-discrimination protection for cancer patients and survivors in Australia with similar developments in the US and UK, highlighting the ways in which laws can be formulated to improve outcomes for cancer patients and their experiences of cancer.