Sadly, no insurance company covers mental health issues

We could start off in the usual way — depression is the great plague of our era, people are scared to talk about mental health issues and lives are being lost because of this. 

According to a World Health Organisation report, an estimated 56 million people suffer from depression in India. 38 million suffer from anxiety disorders.

In other words, 20 per cent of our population suffers from a mental illness. Only 10-12 per cent of them seek aid. Mental distress is believed to be a key reason why one student commits suicide every hour in the country.

Now do we have your attention?

In a country with such a large prevalence of mental issues, it would only be natural to expect that institutional support would be robust to tackle this challenge. But surprisingly, no insurance provider seems to have any policy to cover mental illnesses. 

Metrolife called up a few health insurance companies and got conflicting answers with a common summary — mental health is not a priority in this country. 

Company 1 (Apollo Munich Health Insurance)

“We don’t have any such policy.”

Company 2 (Religare Health Insurance)

“We don’t have any such policy and nor will any other insurance provider in the country. It is a critical illness which is completely excluded from the list of diseases covered by insurance in India. 

Company 3 (Star Health and Allied Insurance)

“We do have some policies relating to mental health but it all depends on the records of the person and the history of their disease. If you send us the reports, we shall forward them to our doctors. They will be able to suggest to you the right policy to take.” 

Alliance Insurance Brokers

“A person who needspsychiatric treatment in case of trauma associated with accidents will get reimbursement. This is subject to the policy taken and insurance company’s approval. Individual policy does not cover mental health illnesses since insurance is all about covering unforeseen events. Issues like depression and hypertension can be covered under tailormade group medical policy, subject to the person’s capacity to work.”

Confused, we also spoke to some insurance agents about what the guidelines said about providing mental health care in India and the responses left us no more enlightened.

Agent 1

“There is a list of diseases that are covered by different companies. Some of them do show mental illness in that but no one knows about this; it is just there as a formality. They have a lot of clauses which makes it virtually impossible for someone to get a claim reimbursed for mental illnesses. They  follow this tactic almost all the time but mental health is especially targeted.”

Agent 2

“There is no provision for providing insurance for mental health in India; none of the companies do this. Earlier, there was a provision which said that a child born with some developmental disorders/mental issues should be covered under insurance automatically but this was also done away with.”

“This exclusion of all psychosomatic disorders and those related to psychiatry from health insurance has hit the patients hard and curbed their access to therapy and aid.”

Says Dr Vijay Mehtry, consultant psychiatrist, Manasa Neuropsychiatric Hospital, “I have had a lot of patients complaining about the cost of therapy and how they are not able to afford it.”

He says that a session can cost anywhere between Rs 500-Rs 1,500 and the number of sessions vary from person to person. So, an average patient spends anywhere between Rs 5,000- Rs 10,000 per month for therapy. 

“It is not just the money. Most of them don’t want to let their condition be known in their places of work so taking off from work for sessions is another problem.”

He adds that illnesses like depression and anxiety are not treated as seriously as other major disorders.

When patients talk about costs, doctors impress the long-term benefits of therapy upon them.
 

Mental Health Care Act 2017

For the first time in our history, it legally acknowledges an individual’s right to mental health care, while protecting and promoting said rights during the delivery of healthcare. It empowers individuals and recognises their right to make informed decisions about their mental health.

Companies show the way

“We are getting a lot of requests from large corporate bodies to take training for their personnel, mainly human resouce staff and team managers. This is called Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training and lets them identify possible issues and guide the affected people,” says Dr V Senthil Kumar, additional professor, department of psychiatry.

Sandhya J, HR manager, Medibox Digital Solutions Private Limited says, “Having healthy employees is key when maintaining productivity levels at work. Medibox organises various games and networking events on a weekly and fortnightly basis. ‘Fun Fridays’ help the employees to bond better with their colleagues; improving co-worker relationship has direct impact on mental health of employees.” She says that they also have counselling teams to help employees in distress.

Where are the funds?

According to estimates, India is currently only spending 0.6% of its national health budget on mental health care.

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