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Mental Health Insurance in India Research Team | Posted On Tuesday, April 23,2019, 02:57 PM

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Mental Health Insurance in India



More than 6.5% of the Indian population suffers from some form of a serious mental disorder. Isn’t this shocking? A study was conducted by the National Care Of Medical Health which shows India is the most depressed country in the World.

Why should mental health be taken seriously? Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it’s more common and harder to bear. Insurers did not take mental health insurance seriously, until IRDA stepped in. The IRDA has asked insurers to offer cover for mental illness in medical insurance plans. Insurers will now have to adhere to the provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017.

What is the Mental Healthcare Act?

According to the Mental Healthcare Act, mental illness is described as a substantial disorder of mood, perception, orientation or thinking, which grossly impairs your behavior, judgment and the capacity to recognize reality or ability. Poor mental health leads to alcohol and drug abuse.

The Mental Healthcare Act 2017 aims to:

  • Decriminalize the attempt to commit suicide by making sure people who have attempted suicide are given opportunities for rehabilitation by the Government, instead of being punished for the suicide attempt.
  • The Mental Healthcare Act 2017 makes sure India fulfils its International obligations vis-à-vis Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.
  • The Mental Healthcare Act 2017 empowers people with mental illnesses. It allows them make decisions vis-à-vis their health, provided they have sufficient knowledge to do so.
  • The Act makes sure people who suffer from mental illnesses have access to healthcare without any discrimination from the Government. Insurers would have to make provisions for the treatment of mental illnesses just like physical ailments.
  • The Mental Healthcare Act 2017 has provisions for the registration and regulation of Mental Health Institutions in India. It makes sure no person has to travel too far for mental illness treatment and would also create a mental health review board to serve as a regulatory body.
  • The act restricts the usage of ECT, Electroconvulsive therapy  also called electroshock therapy, only to emergency cases. It is used with muscle relaxants and anaesthesia. ECT cannot be used on minors. Electroconvulsive therapy  is a psychiatric treatment designed to induce seizures to give patients relief from mental health disorders.
  • The Act also demands that police treat people who suffer from mental disorders with respect under the provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act.
  • The Act helps tackle the stigma associated with Mental Illnesses.

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SEE ALSO: Health Insurance Plans To Cover Mental Illness Too, But Will That Help?

Mental Health Infrastructure in India

The mental health workforce is very low in India. There are just 0.29 psychiatrists, 0.07 psychologists, and 0.80 mental health nurses for every 1 Lakh citizens. This is very low for a country which could have an estimated 10.6% of the population, suffering from mental illnesses. Just 1 psychiatric for every 37,000 people is a disaster. Psychologists are even rarer.

India has just 800 inpatient care facilities which includes state mental hospitals, psychiatric units in general hospitals, forensic inpatient units, and residential care facilities. 

What does health insurance cover?

Your health insurance plan covers inpatient hospitalization and not outpatient treatment. This means doctor consultancy fees and medicines are not payable. You are covered for hospitalization of a mental illness. Sadly, just a very small proportion of people with mental illnesses need hospitalization. The vast majority of people with mental illnesses need outpatient treatment, (This is consultations and medicines), which are not covered in most health insurance plans. There are high chances that insurers could have exclusions vis-à-vis mental illnesses just like physical ailments.

The insurance market is under penetrated vis-à-vis outpatient treatment. There are very few health insurance plans which cover outpatient treatment or OPD and the cover is not high. Something must be done about this.

Social Stigma and Discrimination for Mental Disorders

  • Separate the individual from the mental health disorder:

Mental illness is just a disorder. It doesn’t define the person. The person is suffering from a mental illness. He needs to be addressed in a more mindful way.

  • Don’t fall for myths and misconceptions on mental illness

Ignore myths and misconceptions on mental illness and focus on the facts.

  • Get educated on mental illness

Understand mental health issues, mental health disorders and mental illnesses. Spread knowledge on mental illness and treatment among friends, colleagues and family.

  • Mental illness is not very different from physical illness

Do you treat a person who suffers from a physical illness in a bad way? If a person suffers from a stomach ailment, do you judge him or treat him negatively? So, why do this to a person who suffers from mental disorders?

Product Development in mental healthcare

  • Inpatient hospitalization cover only:

This is medical insurance for the treatment of mental illnesses, just like physical illnesses. However, this has a lot of shortcomings which must be addressed. Inpatient hospitalization cover focuses only on mental illnesses which require hospitalization. Most people who suffer from mental illness require outpatient medical treatment.

  • Inpatient hospitalization cover only, with OPD for comorbid cases:

Many mental conditions have comorbidity. There’s high depression in people suffering from cancer and chronic illnesses. Insurers must look into offering products with Inpatient hospitalization cover only, with OPD for comorbid cases. Insurers have data on these cases, and pricing of products isn’t an issue. This helps high-risk individuals avail mental health insurance.

  • Inpatient and OPD Cover

Inpatient and OPD Cover offers comprehensive insurance to people suffering from mental illnesses. OPD cover is very important and this plan offers it. Insurers could struggle with pricing and they must have strong claim settlement processes in place, as frequency of claims are high. This policy could be made available for groups of people to bring down the cost of insurance. These plans could have policy deductibles to reduce costs and a provision for profit-sharing between the insurer and the group.

SEE ALSO: Mental Illness: Health Insurance

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