Dedicated cover could build tolerance for mental health issue

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By Arshad Khan

IRDAI mandate to insurance companies to bring mental ailments under medical insurance policy is a step in the right direction, say several industry experts.

NEW DELHI: According to the National Mental Health Survey of 2016, around 15 crore Indians need mental healthcare intervention. However, in reality, only 10-12 per cent of them seek aid. While a significant section of the society considers mental illness a taboo subject, a large section out there cannot afford the high cost associated with the treatment.

The major reason why mental healthcare is so expensive in the country is because no major insurance company provides a policy that covers mental ailment and even if they have a product, it is difficult to settle a claim, if not next to impossible.

However, things are likely to change as the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has asked insurance companies to cover mental ailments under the medical insurance policy, treating it on par with physical illness.“All insurance companies are hereby directed to comply with the aforesaid provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act—2017 with immediate effect,” IRDAI said in a notification.

A few insurers have welcomed the move and it is expected that in the next few weeks, insurance companies will launch specialised products to cover mental health.“We welcome IRDAI’s move to include mental illnesses in the ambit of health insurance coverage for customers. This is indeed a long-awaited inclusion, much needed for those dealing with any form of mental illness and have been beyond the ambit of insurance cover so far,” said Ashish Mehrotra, MD & CEO, Max Bupa Health Insurance.

Jyoti Punja, Chief Operating Officer and Customer Officer, Cigna TTK Health Insurance, said that mental health insurance is a progressive step in the right direction.“We believe it will certainly create awareness, acceptance and inclusion of mental illness as any other ailment, while bringing mental health disorders at par with physical illnesses will ‘normalise’ diagnoses, reducing myths and stigma associated with it,” she said.Mehrotra said that stress is a major cause of depression and can lead to various mental illnesses. For people dealing with such situations, his company has designed a behavioural counselling feature in its recently launched GoActive plan, which offers telephonic counselling for anything related to pre-marital, nutrition, stress, child and parenting issues.

However, there are insurance companies who feel that the definition of mental illness is so wide that it becomes difficult for them to come up with a product.“Mental illnesses stretch from anxiety and depression to obsessive compulsive disorder and borderline narcissistic personality disorder. While anxiety and depression can be treated in a short duration, extremes mental illnesses are an expensive and time-consuming treatment. The products for critical illnesses will depend on industry dynamics (competition), but one thing is for sure — the premiums are expected to be high,” said an insurance firm executive.

He added that to include OPD cover for therapy, consultation and drugs will be something to watch out for, as it is something quite expensive.

As per the health survey, families had to spend approximately Rs 1,000-Rs 1,500 a month for treatment and travel to access care. However, in a metro city like Delhi or Mumbai, a session with psychiatrist can cost anywhere between Rs 500 andRs 2,000 and the number of sessions vary from person to person. Drugs and travelling expenses can take the monthly expenses anywhere between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000.

Adding to it, shortage of doctors and the State’s timid spending to create awareness continue to make things difficult for patients. India spends only 0.6 per cent of its national health budget on mental health care, and there are just 0.3 psychiatrists and 0.07 psychologists per one lakh Indians — figures that need a serious intervention.

Source: The New Indian Express

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