Despite new law insurance penetration in mental health is poor

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Mental Health | Photo: The People Speak!
India has a heavy burden of mental illnesses but poor insurance penetration

India has a heavy burden of mental illness but lack of awareness and stigma prevent people from opting for insurance for mental illnesses

India faces a rising burden of mental illnesses, but there remains a huge void in awareness and social understanding of mental health issues. There is also a huge gap in health insurance for mental illnesses.

Experts and stakeholders in the field along with policy makers came together recently to discuss the issue at a major conference called ‘Insure Your Mental Health’ organized by Poddar Foundation, a leading institution working in the field.

Research suggests that 1 in 4 people in India deal with some form of mental illness during their lifetime. Mental health experts say rising life expectancy and changing lifestyles have in recent years led to increasing incidence of depression, anxiety disorders and dementia among others. Unfortunately, this aggravating problem receives little attention, particularly due to low levels of awareness and deep-rooted stigma.

Research suggests that 86 percent of the rural population and 82 percent of the urban are not covered by health insurance in India. With the passing of the Mental Healthcare Act (MHCA), 2017, the IRDAI has issued a mandate asking insurance providers to include mental illness in their bouquet of services

Healthcare experts and corporate heads in the insurance sector attended the conference offering different perspectives on the importance of covering mental illnesses in Health Insurance and how to make it a reality. Congress leader Mr. Milind Deora also participated in the event and offered a political perspective.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the cost of mental illness to amount to 6 billion dollars by 2030. However, in a country where penetration of health insurance itself remains low, the question of mental health insurance seems still more far-fetched.

“Firstly, we need to raise awareness among people about how mental illnesses can happen to anybody and how they come with a huge financial and emotional cost. Secondly, we need insurance providers to offer workable and affordable health plans covering mental illnesses without any significant exclusions. In a country where health insurance penetration remains low, keeping premium costs low is very essential. At the same time, we need educative communication campaigns from both government and insurance providers to raise awareness about the need for mental health insurance,” said Mr. Nanik Rupani, Principal Advisor Poddar Foundation and Founder, Priyadarshi Academy and Roopmeck Consulting.

Research suggests that 86 percent of the rural population and 82 percent of the urban are not covered by health insurance in India. With the passing of the Mental Healthcare Act (MHCA), 2017, the IRDAI has issued a mandate asking insurance providers to include mental illness in their bouquet of services. However, adequate steps have not been initiated to ensure this provision is enforced in letter and spirit.

“It is very encouraging to see the industry join hands with mental health experts to raise this very important subject that finds little or no mention in our discourse on healthcare. Not only do we need to unstigmatisze the subject of mental health but we also need to educate people about insuring themselves against mental disorders. It is imperative for each one of you, as a voter to tell the politicians what you think is an important issue. If you leave it to the politicians to decide what should become an important issue, any political party or any politician regardless of Party A or B will try their level best to draw your attention towards the highlighted issues. The way Indian fought against HIV and AIDS, now Mental illness also needs to become a political issue to fight against.” said Deora, President of Mumbai Congress, former Central MOS for Shipping & Telecom).

Other participants included Lt. Gen. (Dr.) V. Ravishankar, COO- Lilavati Hospital; Dr. Kersi Chavda, Psychiatrist and Consultant to Hinduja National Hospital; Dr. Huzaifa Khorakiwala, Wockhardt Foundation; Mrs. Rajyalakshmi Rao, Advisory Board Member, IRDAI; Mr. Suresh Mathur, Executive Director, IRDAI and Mr. Dinesh Pant, Appointed Actuary, LIC, among others.