I am healthy and I have not stepped foot in a hospital since childhood. I studied in mainstream school and obtained a diploma without special help. I have served 52 months of National Service without incident. I have worked full-time for 2 years in a government agency (and after this experience worked for a decade in the private sector) without incident. My friends and colleagues find it hard to believe that I am autistic until they get to know me better.
There should be no reason for the insurance company to reject my application for hospitalization insurance, except for the fact that I wrote “Autism Spectrum Disorder” in the policy form. This contains the A-word that strikes fear in the policy department.
My application triggered a knee-jerk reaction by the company. While they approved my mother’s insurance application of the same policy within a week, they spent 3 weeks to send their rejection letter to me.
“We have considered your proposal very carefully and based the medical information we have regarding the health status of the insured person, we are sorry to inform you that we are unable to accept the cover due to medical condition.“
I immediately wrote back to them by email requesting for an explanation. As this was just before Christmas 2009, they promised to take a look after the holidays. After waiting for another two weeks, I wrote another email to them telling them about my special situation and asking for a reason why they rejected me. When their representative called the next day, she requested that vaguely for a doctor’s letter. She did not elaborate on what the letter should contain.
As my mother was very eager for me to get insurance and getting impatience with my progress, she took matters into her own hands. She called another insurance contact she knew, and somehow they managed to work the matter out. The document the company requested is a letter certifying that I do not have self-injurious behavior.
Unfortunately, the representative informed my mother that the company has already closed my policy application, since I have not appealed within 1 month by snail mail. They then took 2 weeks to send me the advance payment I made for the first year’s premium. This sounds like they are sending a message that I am not welcome as their client.
My belief is that the insurance companies do not owe us a living and are free to pick and choose their clients. I am also free to decide to save the insurance premium instead of paying it to a reluctant insurance company. However, my mother has decided that it is essential that I get insurance cover. My sister has persuaded me that I should make some effort to fight for this case, since it affects not only me, but the autism community in Singapore.
This is when I found that another insurance company has rejected an annuity application for a teenage Singaporean friend of mine last year, who comes from a well-off family, also because of the “A-word”. In addition, a week after I wrote this article, a Singaporean parent also contacted me with a similar situation. I realized that I am not a “test case” or “guinea pig” but one out of the (possibly) tens of thousands of people who face the same treatment around the world.
A few weeks later, the Autism Resource Center wrote a short letter to the company explaining my case, which I attached to my policy application. This time, the insurance company accepted me as their client without any reservations. I am grateful for ARC’s help. I hope that with the passage of the Affordable Care Act in the USA, insurance companies will take a more enlightened view in the future. [Update: Starting from August 2013, NTUC Income is offering insurance for people with autism in Singapore, though the terms are extremely uncompetitive in my opinion.]
I also advise autistics who have enlisted in National Service to maximise their insurance cover under the MINDEF group insurance scheme. This is not only fuss-free (as insurer will automatically receive the medical records) but also reassuring as MINDEF lawyers will help protect your rights if anything bad happens. For more insurance options, consider joining the Investing & Business chat group on the Whatsapp Autism Community Singapore Chat Network to find a supportive financial advisor.
Tips to avoid being blacklisted
- Consult with someone who is experienced in this area, preferably an insurance agent who has succeeded in obtaining insurance cover for special needs people.
- Avoid using the word autism at all costs. If there is a more specific diagnosis such as Aspergers’ Syndrome, use that instead.
- Emphasize on any positive aspects if they are true:
- No self-injurious behavior
- No medical treatment needed
- No follow up treatment necessary
- Recovery has occurred (note: must be substantiated by a letter from a qualified professional)
- Provide a letter from a qualified professional to explain your situation (including all the positive aspects).
- Never lie to the insurance company. If they find out, you can lose your right to claim on the policy, which defeats the purpose of obtaining insurance cover.
If the insurance company does not want you as a client, there are still many things you can do for yourself to protect yourself from problems. Living a sane, safe and healthy lifestyle is actually be better than having a ton of insurance. Examples include:
- Taking good care of our body
- No smoking
- No recreational drugs
- Avoid unhealthy foods
- Cultivate good hygiene (e.g. brush our teeth at twice a day)
- Take multivitamins and suitable nutritional supplements
- Practice safe sex
- Avoid living in polluted places
- No dangerous activities
- No dangerous sports (e.g. mountain climbing, diving, parachuting)
- Avoid dangerous places
- If you must travel to risky or third world countries, always buy travel insurance which does not require declaration of pre-existing conditions
- Avoid places with diseases (e.g. hospitals)
- Work in a non-risky job
- Live in a safe neighborhood and country
- Use safe transportation (e.g. avoid riding motorcycles or sitting on the roof of a train/bus)
- Take care of your emotional health
- Live a stress free, meaningful life
- Work and live with agreeable people
- Avoid living in psychologically stressful environments (e.g. neighbors blasting their music)
- Live in good financial health
- Live within your means
- Have adequate savings/assets for emergency use
- Keep a good credit record so that you can borrow money at low cost when necessary
Remember that an ounce of prevention is better than a ton of cure. An insurance policy is merely one of the ways you can protect yourself from disasters after they happens. You can still do whatever is in your power to prevent disasters from happening in the first place.