Disclaimer: What you're about to read is of a general nature and doesn't take into account your personal financial situation, needs or objectives. We recommend you seek financial advice before making any decisions about your super and consider the relevant UniSuper PDS and TMD.

Woman: I was 32 when I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Sounds stupid to say now, I know, but I never actually thought it would happen to me.

When you watch the news or read about someone having a tragic illness or accident, you empathize with them. But you also sort of can't help just moving on to the next story. When it actually did happen to me, it felt like my world as I knew it was crushed.

I couldn't breathe or think or do anything. There's no Illnesses for Dummies.

Marta: You're listening to Super Informed Radio, the podcast where we help you wade through the complexities of super, the broader world of finance, and life's money matters. As always, I'm Marta.

Lyndon: And I'm Lyndon. And today, we're exploring what it means to have insurance in your super when it comes down to the crunch. Now, the story you heard a moment ago is that of one of our members, who's obviously gone through a pretty tough time in life over the last little while, potentially even one of the worst moments of her life so far.

Marta: Yeah. It felt kind of odd listening…Well, not odd. But it was weird listening to it because I can empathize. But then, I start thinking about, "Well, how would I go about it if something like that happened to me, and how would I even go about picking my life back up?" It's hard.

Lyndon: Well, in this member's case, she actually was able to contact UniSuper because she had insurance through her super. Let's see the rest of her story.

Woman: Everyone processes these things differently. I tried to keep going. But in the end, I found I just couldn't. I had to quit the one thing that was keeping me sane – my job. Well, you might think, "It's just a job." But for me, that was my life. Like, how was I going to keep going?

I heard randomly on the TV about cover for when you can't work, and that I could be covered through my super. So I did check, eventually. I wasn't in the headspace to wrap my head around any of it.

I'd been on sick leave for four months, and it was about a year before I finally got in touch with UniSuper. And in the end, I was entitled to an insurance benefit. UniSuper introduced me to it, and they helped me apply for it, while I finally had to resign from my position.

You kind of can't imagine what it's like until you go through it. I spoke with an occupational rehabilitation specialist at UniSuper. Natalie coached me to get back into the workforce.

She took me through two mock interviews, which really helped my anxiety and fears about being asked about my past experience, and it meant I could practice answering questions in a non-threatening way. I'd been out of the loop for so long, so it was great to be able to have some trial runs before jumping back into it.

Well, soon after the second interview, I got a short-term contract which led to further employment. For me, it was the Occupational Rehab team that was really valuable in my recovery and return to work. Natalie helped me feel confident about my position and helped me practice in a really positive and constructive way.

Fingers crossed for the future. But whatever happens, I can't stress enough how important the occupational rehab service is for anyone trying to make their way back into the workforce.

Marta: Wow. So hearing that full story, you get a sense of the member-side of things and just how crazy and full-on that end-to-end journey can be. So here to take us through that in a little bit more detail is Natalie Agnoletto, UniSuper's Occupational Rehabilitation and Return-to-Work Specialist. Now, Natalie's job or role involves helping members who are on-claim, so for example, if someone is temporary unable to work, get back into the workforce easier.

And that can involve supporting the member and just keeping in touch with them throughout this process, and even also talking to employers, either their current one or potential new ones, to ease that transition of coming back into work.

Natalie, thanks very much for joining us in the studio today.

Natalie: Thanks for having me.

Marta: So that story we just heard there is one example of something that happens quite often. Do you manage many cases like that?

Natalie: We look at quite a few different cases, and each member is quite unique in what they require. And we support them accordingly.

Lyndon: So Natalie, the member's story we heard, what is it like for you to deal with those members? And can you tell us a little bit about what your role entails and how you might interact with them?

Natalie: Yep. So my role is actually fairly new. Sort of in May 2017, I think; it came about purely because in the Claims team, we identified that there was a lack of support in that area for members if they've been off work for a while and as well as our employers as well.

Lyndon: And so for the member's story that we heard before, at what point…So obviously, you know, they might become ill or whatever, and then they contact us and lodge a claim, however it works. At what point in that process do you end up talking to members and helping them?

Natalie: Yep. So claims assessors, they look at the medical information and the member's opinion on things. And if there's a work capacity issue or a potential capacity approaching, that's when they can have a discussion with the member or refer it on to me to go, "All right. There's a capacity approaching. Do you need assistance with either the negotiating with your employer or looking for other work?" So that's the trigger point, just a potential capacity.

Lyndon: Yeah. So basically, kind of, "You might have been ill for a while, and now you might be in a position where you could return to work," and that's where you can come in?

Natalie: Absolutely.

Lyndon: Cool.

Natalie: Some people who remain job-attached, they've sort of got more of an idea of the direction that they want to take.

Marta: What do you mean by job-attached?

Natalie: It's still employed.

Marta: Oh, yeah, okay.

Natalie: Yeah. So the employment contract is still in existence. So I speak to some members who speak to their supervisors every week still, while being off work—so they're in the know, they know what's going on.

Other members may not have spoken to their employer in six months or more. And the difference is the type of conditions that they've got. The employers may not want to bother them. So you've got all these relationships that it's like, "Oh…" It's opposite ends of the spectrum. They're not sort of playing to their employee and their needs. So some people actually like getting that contact monthly to sort of stay in the loop of things.

Marta: Well, I think that's really important.

Natalie: Yeah.

Marta: And like, you know, especially if an illness or particular injury has meant that someone's a bit more isolated, it's that social connectedness and that feeling that you belong to something that can, I believe, also help in rehabbing people quickly and getting back into it.

Natalie: Yeah. Then, there's the other hand, though, that there's some members who would feel hassled if they're contacted so much. So that's where it's like a skill in knowing what your member or employee wants and making sure that you adapt your approach.

Marta: It suits them.

Natalie: And that's what we do with claims assessment as well. There's, again, not a standard approach. There’s no need to contact them monthly if our medical information supports it. But if that person is quite chatty on the phone and that is their only outlet, then, yeah, we're happy to do that and tailor that accordingly.

Lyndon: Natalie, you mentioned just then some of the illnesses that members, potential claimants or actual claimants might have. What kind of illnesses, typically, would you see someone with an income protection kind of temporary incapacity claim coming to you with?

Natalie: Yep. So the higher numbers are around mental health conditions at the moment.

Lyndon: Okay.

Natalie: Followed by cancer and sort of physical ailments.

So, psychological claims are definitely on the increase. Whether or not that is due to a reduction in stigma in the workplace or people are being more vocal and opening up about it, that's yet to be determined. Each state has quite significantly different rates of claim, especially on the mental health front.

So, we haven't sort of picked up a certain trend at this point in time. But the claims that I'm working with, a majority I would say are mental health claims.

Marta: Natalie, you mentioned there the three more common illnesses or injuries that people will come to us with. But taking mental health as an example, there's such a wide spectrum as it were or range of matters or issues that can come up in that space.

So if a member feels like they're at the beginning or at the onset of something, what are the first steps that they can take to sort of get a claim rolling as it were?

Natalie: Yeah. Well, early intervention is absolute key. So even if a claim comes second, go get the right treatment. Go seek medical advice. Yeah. The sooner the better in terms of success of recovery. If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, any type of mental health disorder or physical injury, whatever the case may be, give us a call. UniSuper is here to absolutely help and direct you right down the right path. So if you are feeling that your injury or condition is impacting your ability to work in any way, shape, or form, give us a call, and we can give you advice regarding what cover that you've got, what steps need to be taken, and provide you with the necessary support.

Marta: It's probably a good idea to chime in now and say that if you are interested in finding out how much insurance you have or cover, or things you…

Lyndon: Or if you have it at all.

Marta: …if you have it at all, you can log into your account online at unisuper.com.au and follow the prompts there.

Natalie: Healthy work is part of someone's recovery. It's not about being on claim, waiting to be 100%, and then going back to work, if people understand.

So I always have to make sure that the member clearly understands what I'm trying to do for them. And like at the end of the day, if they want to participate, they can. And if they don't, they don't have to. Because no one's going to give someone a job who walks up to an interview and doesn't want the job. So it's like, they need that motivation…

Lyndon: Of course. It comes naturally.

Natalie: …there in the first instance. So our focus is about extra support and seeing what we can do to help them.

Lyndon: Natalie, obviously, the claimant that we heard speaking about her story earlier had a good experience.

Natalie: Yeah.

Lyndon: There must be tons of other good experiences out there as well. Can you give us an idea of some of the other types of stories that you've come across that just spring to mind?

Natalie: There's a handful of ones that I can 100% guarantee that if we didn't support them, they would still be on claim.

There was this one claim where the assessor had identified that she did have a capacity, but she was still employer-attached, so still employed. And like I mentioned before, some members aren't aware that if they are on claim, if it's been identified that they can't go back to their previous job, that they can look for new work.

They sort of think that they're held in contract for a two-year period, which is not the case.

Lyndon: Right.

Natalie: In this instance, the member had sort of lost contact with the employer, and so she was actually still hopeful of going back. From their perspective, based on her restrictions, they were never able or never planning to be able to provide her with duties. So I was kind of in that difficult position of telling the member that maybe it was best to start exploring alternate options…

Lyndon: Yeah.

Natalie: …She was absolutely devastated. And it was all about trying to give her hope that we're here to support her to start exploring other options.

Ideally, it will 100% come from the employer, and I do believe at both those stages, after I spoke to the employer, I was like, "Does the member know that this was your plan or where your head's at with all this?" So then, that communication started, and I was there for support for her once she did find out. So I wasn't the bearer of bad news, but I initiated the bad news in a way.

Lyndon: Sure.

Natalie: Which eventually proved timely, so that she was like, "Oh, here I was waiting, thinking that was going to be my future," because she did want to get back. But as soon as she got told the hard truth, then she was like, "Oh, what am I going to do now? I'm going to start looking for other work."

Lyndon: Yeah. How did you get her to where she needed to be?

Natalie: Yep. So after her week of being in shock and really upset, we just said, "Okay. Where to from here? What do you want to do? Let's start looking for other work." And yet, she was like, "Yes, I really want to get back to work as soon as possible," knowing that being off work for any longer was just not going to do anything better to her confidence.

So she sent through her resume, and I checked over it—making recommendations. She put a cover letter together, and she was kind of looking for…still wanted to be in the higher education sector. So we looked at different universities in her area.

And then the perfect job came along, and she was successful in securing two different interviews which were a week apart. It was probably lucky the one that she really wanted to go for came around for the second time. So she got an early run with the other one, a bit of a practice one. And, yeah, so she was successful with the second job and extremely happy.

And she's someone that has actually said that without the support, she doesn't know where she would have been or ended up.

Lyndon: Wow.

Natalie: So it was a positive story.

Lyndon: So if there are members listening to us talk about these issues in similar predicaments, they perhaps might be wondering what on Earth to do, what would you say to them?

Obviously, firstly, go and check your cover, what you have, if you have any.

Natalie: Well, if they're on claim, their claims assessor will be their first protocol. If they do have an injury or illness and are not on claim, that's when you can call the 1800 825 246 number or email claims@unisuper.com.au, to see what the process is to initiate the claim.

But if you are on claim and you're not sure what you can do and what supports are in place, absolutely, contact your claims assessor.

Lyndon: Hmm. Fantastic.

Marta: Well, Natalie, that's definitely a lot of food for thought. Thank you so much for coming in and talking to us about the other side of insurance in your super.

Natalie: Thank you for having me.

Marta: And that brings us to the end of another episode of Super Informed Radio, thanks very much for listening in.

Now, if you have any questions or concerns about anything that you might have heard in today's episode, we'll have some links in our show notes for more information.

Lyndon: And as always, if you'd like to listen to past episodes of Super Informed Radio, you can do that at unisuper.com.au/podcasts or subscribe through an adjacent podcast app. We'll catch you next time.

Marta: Bye for now.

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