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Insurance Article

A Market for Mental Health Insurance?

May 12 2017
Mental illnesses in health insurance

Inclusion of mental illnesses in health insurance will boost mental health literacy and help fight stigmatisation in the country

Mental illnesses are a serious problem in India. The issue has been relegated to the sidelines for decades now, but the rising number of people suffering from these illnesses has brought it to the forefront. Nearly 6.5% of the country’s population suffer from some sort of mental disorder, and this is expected to increase up to 20% by 2020. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are nearly 57 million Indians suffering from depression, which is one in every 22 people.

Mental Healthcare Act

The new Mental Healthcare Act seeks to achieve a paradigm shift in the way people perceive mental illness. It replaces the term “mental illness” with “mentally ill,” which suggests that it is a condition that isn’t permanent, and treatable with the right approach. It also ensures the person’s right to mental healthcare with dignity and confidentiality.

Another major change in the Mental Healthcare Act is the directive given to the insurers for providing cover for the treatment of mental illnesses. The clause states, “Every insurer shall make provision for medical insurance for treatment of mental illness on the same basis as is available for treatment of physical illness.”

Mental illness cover has been given the same status as that of health insurance cover in the new act. Presently, health insurance only covers aspects relating to physical illness, and that is a huge market. In 2015-16 alone, the premium from health insurance was ₹ 27,457 crore, with a phenomenal growth rate of 21.30% compared to the previous year.

Mental Insurance Elsewhere

Mental health insurance is an existing offering that is already prevalent in many countries. However, the coverage differs from country to country. The extent of coverage varies with certain limits with respect to the number of outpatient visits, number of hospitalisations, the amount spent and so on.

The UK has comprehensive health insurance policies that cover a wide range of healthcare services spanning medical, surgical, psychiatric, and psychological services. Coverage in Indonesia is different in the sense that only public insurance comes with mental insurance, whereas private insurers do not offer it. Similarly, the coverage varies for other nations also.

Covering Mental Illnesses

It cannot be said that insurers in India do not offer diversified insurance services. Insurance is not only offered in the core areas but also found in treatments pertaining to Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Ayurveda, and Yoga among others. However, there is no concrete reason for the absence of mental health insurance. One of the probable reasons is the problems faced by agencies in corroborating diagnoses with psychometric evaluations. Another reason could be the stigma associated with mental illnesses.

Bringing mental illness under the ambit of insurance will have far-reaching impact. This move will serve to improve awareness, and educate the masses about mental illnesses. By giving it the same stature as physical illness, the government has played a masterstroke that will alter the outlook of people towards mental disorders. With insurance coverage by their side, mentally ill patients can seek advanced care from skilled professionals and undergo advanced medical treatments.

Mental health insurance will soon be a part of comprehensive health insurance coverage. However, the affordability of the cover is still a matter of concern. Especially when insurers have already given hints on raising premiums for mental health cover. Overall, the bill is a step in the positive direction that will improve the condition of the population with mental illnesses in the country.

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