Last year, in the context of my divorce, I applied for a loan. It was quite a small loan, for about 15% of the value of our apartment. In essence, I was re-mortgaging my bedroom so that I could extract my husband’s share of the capital.
That said, I work part-time, so I’m looking down the barrel of paying off my bedroom for the next fifteen years.
By far the most difficult part of the process (and that is saying a lot, as my bank were breathtakingly incompetent) was dealing with the compulsory insurance, which includes coverage in the event of my death (we have a recurring theme!), or should I become too unwell to work for an extended period of time.
I’ve applied for a home loan twice before – both pre-diagnosis – and the health questionnaire had never phased me at all. I’ve never smoked. I’d never been off work for more than a week. The only time I’d seen the inside of a hospital in the past 20 years was for the delivery of my two children. (Is it just me, or does that it make it sound like babies arrive via DHL?) I’d forgotten the health questionnaire even existed until my bank manager sent me an email.
Have you been off work for more than one month in the past ten years? If so, for how long? OK. Ouch. Yes. There were those six months immediately following my diagnosis. I’m not sure I needed six months but I was on full pay and, for some reason, my ex-employers took their sweet time drawing up my exit papers once I’d negotiated my non-return. Anyone who has dabbled in mood stabilisers or anti-depressants also knows that you need time to get acclimated (especially as the first treatment didn’t stick, so I had to start over with a new one). No point beating myself up about it now though: I took the time out and the damage is done.
I also had to admit to having a long-term medical condition. My bipolar disorder is declared as such to the French health service, which entitles me to free medical treatment. My month-long hospital stay was all expenses paid. Vive la France! Lying wouldn’t achieve anything (other than invalidating my insurance if something were to happen and I was found out).
So I filled in the questionnaire truthfully and a few weeks later, a second questionnaire arrived by post, this time for the attention of my psychiatrist. I took it along to our monthly appointment. He scanned the first page, sighed and put down his pen.
“If I fill this in, Madame, then they’ll deny you coverage. I’ve seen this situation before.”
Tears welled up and my ears starting ringing: early-onset panic. “But what would you have me do? It’s too late for me to lie now,” I stammered. “I’ll just have to try. I really don’t have any other option. I need this loan.”
Reluctantly he completed the form, putting the most positive spin he could manage on everything. The details of my treatment, but an emphasis on how long I’d been “in remission” and in employment.
A couple of weeks later the reply came and I was relieved, at first. I had insurance! My loan application could go ahead!
But reading the small print I discovered my premiums had doubled (and this directly in relation to the death insurance – how prescient). As for illnesses, there were some major exclusions. Incapacitation due to a freak accident or injury caused by third-party was covered. If lightning strikes or I get hit by a car, all well and good (hmm… maybe well and good weren’t the best word choices here). But if I have the misfortune to develop a heart problem, say, or cancer? Not so much. Even though these things bear no relation whatsoever to bipolar disorder.
Even I can make a case for excluding my pre-existing condition. I’m a risky bet because of my illness itself, and that’s without factoring in the side effects of my medication. Lithium can cause renal failure, hypothyroidism, and much, much more. I have to take monthly blood tests to check my levels. A double-sided A3 sheet comes neatly folded inside every box of quetiapine and it might as well be a Penny Dreadful. Anti-psychotics are often responsible for diabetes and… you know what, I can’t face unfolding that leaflet right now, so let’s just leave it at “other bad shit”. The previous generation of antipsychotic drugs have been linked to dementia, and when I pressed my Doctor on that subject, he hedged like a politician, saying the newer molecules are probably safer, butas they haven’t been in circulation for long enough, no-one really knows for sure.
The other day, after reading an article online about a lady who had saved a fortune by renegotiating her home loan insurance, I entertained the idea of trying to improve my lot. What was I thinking, you ask? Am I a glutton for punishment? Well, I did warn the broker up front that there were mental health issues and work absences involved, and she promised to take that into account when sounding out the insurers. And if it doesn’t work out, it’s no win, no fee.
So I completed the first form, where I had to start by admitting I’d spent a month in hospital. The second questionnaire arrived, and I found the suicide section.
Has the patient ever attempted suicide? If so, how many times? Date of last attempt? Likelihood of a repeat attempt? Tick boxes to choose method: firearm, hanging, jumping off a high building (as opposed to a low building?) or other (please specify). I wonder what statistical risk-analysis wizardry is behind these choices. Where is the wrist slitting? Where are the meds?
I’m guessing that if I do accidentally fall off a (high) bridge, someone will brandish a copy of this form at my next of kin and try to wriggle out of paying up. Here is proof that Madame didn’t fall. She had a history. She must have jumped.
So when I read articles in the press about mental health and insurance coverage, my blood boils. But words, as you can see, rarely fail me.