Out of a hundred people who are suffering from mental disease only 20 per cent seek treatment while 80 per cent remain at home and they don't reveal it.
Mental health should be considered at par with any other ailment and there should be any discrimination.
Until recently, health insurance policies covered only physical ailments. Now, after the IRDAI mandate, insurance companies are required to cover mental health across all their existing products and treat mental health illness as a normal disease. Dr. S Prakash, Managing Director of Star Health and Allied Insurance, says, “Many of us have some form of mental health issues and one should not discriminate when we look at this segment of people.” In an exclusive interview with Priyadarshini Maji, he says that mental health should be considered at par with any other ailment and there should not be any discrimination. Excerpts:
What is the proportion of claims that you have received this year for mental illness compared to last year? What has been the payout for Star Health for mental treatment?
In this year during the first 3 months owing to lockdown, we could not get routine elective cases as compared to PY. This year normal people going to hospitals and hospitals catering for elective patients was very less due to the COVID outbreak. So, we cannot compare disease-specific claim numbers of this year with that of the previous year.
What kind of awareness does an insurance company have in the mental health space?
I believe, there should be increasing education and awareness on the availability of health insurance cover for people diagnosed with mental health issues. Psychiatrists/healthcare workers connected to mental care facilities should join insurers in promoting awareness in our country. When awareness about cover for mental care treatment amongst this community grows to the optimal level, they can prompt the customers to take an insurance cover.
So, it is not just allowing insurers to cover mental health but simultaneously put in efforts to reach the health care workers related to mental hospitals. From Star, we are planning to organize virtual conferences/webinars on mental health-related issues for our policyholders and prospects.
What has been the benefit that the customers have got due to the inclusion of coverage for mental illness?
The benefit is more of a psychological reassurance when a person with mental health disease is offered a health insurance cover for not only mental disease but also for all disease. Many of us have some form of mental health issues and one should not discriminate when we look at this segment of people.
Mental health should be considered at par with any other ailment and there should be any discrimination. See, there are two scenarios. One, a person with mental health willing to come forward, disclose, and take exclusive health insurance. This is not happening in a big way. Then, in a family cover, if one of the family members has some form of mental illness, previously, we were not accepting such covers. But now, from last October we have started accepting these covers. So, in case, one family member is suffering from mental ailments, the family now has the option to come forward and successfully buy a policy under the family floater.
Due to this pandemic, a lot of financial problems that people are facing due to job loss have been increasing stress levels of people and creating mental health issues. What is the trend that you have noticed from the claims received for the treatment of mental illness?
What we have seen is that there are not many direct admissions related to mental health issues. But yes, we have seen admissions relating to the overlapping of two diseases. For example, an individual might have been admitted for treating a primary disease, but the treatment cannot be effectively taken ahead without addressing the co-existing mental component.
So mental disease apart from adding to primary admissions related to mental problems is most commonly seen as a secondary ailment. Mental issues delay recovery and extend the average length of stay.
According to you, what do you think changes are needed from the policyholders and insurers to increase awareness for mental health covers?
The first step, I believe, is to break the inhibition in the minds of the customers. We have to make people feel that mental illness is like any other illness like cardiac disease or diabetes. We should not create a stigma. We should not discriminate. Already latency for seeking treatment in mental health is very high. The delay in our country is almost double. Where something that should have been addressed within six months takes a year, resulting in the disease getting from bad to worse before reaching a concerned specialist for necessary treatment. This needs to be addressed and conveyed to people properly to remove the stigma associated.
Out of a hundred people who are suffering from mental disease only 20 per cent seek treatment while 80 per cent remain at home and they don’t reveal it.
Can you just elaborate on any steps taken by Star Health in providing cover from mental illness?
So, there are two things. First, we are coming forward with our mental illness initiative in a big way. Second, we have created an exclusive telemedicine facility with qualified psychiatrists and we have given out a toll-free number. We are keeping it open for all of our existing and new customers. We encourage all of them to use the telemedicine services where the qualified psychiatrists are available to take calls.