NEW DELHI: The Covid-19 pandemic has changed not only individuals’ approaches towards health insurance but also various health insurance policies.
The severity of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially the second wave, and post-Covid complications have made people realise the importance of having a health insurance cover, that too, a large enough coverage to fund hospitalisation and other medical costs.
And while people are inquiring more about health policies, health insurance companies have also improved their offerings by adding more features and relaxing some rules to make the claims easier.
Changing customer behaviour
The pandemic has forced people to shed their reluctance to buy health insurance policies. They are more aware about the benefits and features of health policies. People are also enquiring more about ways to increase their insurance coverage.
We have seen customers looking for innovative products offering coverages to cater to specified diseases and higher sum insured, says Subrata Mondal, executive vice-president, underwriting, IFFCO Tokio General Insurance Company.
Sanjay Datta, head of underwriting and claims, ICICI Lombard, says customers are now asking specifically about benefits and exclusions/ non-payables alike. While people are now more aware of health insurance and their features, the way they buy insurance is also changing.
According to an Emkay Global Research report on the General Insurance Industry, Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital technology in most aspects of the general insurance business. “This has also increased the focus of insurers on reaching customers using digital means,” says the report.
With the accelerated adoption of the digital mode of buying insurances, health insurers are also seeing a growth in offering innovative and cost-effective insurance solutions to customers.
Changes in health policies
For health insurers, the Covid-19 pandemic came as an opportunity to expand their customer base as well as product portfolio.
With people enquiring more about health insurance, its features, etc., health insurance companies had to make the most of the opportunity and so they decided to change, both on their own account as well as due to the nudge from the regulators.
Whether it is the launch of Covid-specific products, short-term covers, home care covers, health insurers were quick to expand their product portfolio and product features to suit the customer needs.
Datta of ICICI Lombard says they have been proactive in providing extremely relevant features at no extra costs to customers.
“Since last year, we have reduced the initial waiting period for Covid-related hospitalisations to 15 days (from earlier 30 days). We are also offering home treatment for all ailments where customers can avail treatment from the safe confines of their home, thereby, reducing the risk of exposure to Coronavirus,” says Datta.
Mondal of IFFCo Tokio says that they have added some features like Introduction of cover for telemedicine, short-term policies, Covid-specific products keeping in view the pandemic situation.
IFFCO has also started the facility to pay a premium in instalments, virtual signature/online consent of proposal forms.
Jitendra Singh, Vice president, Swastika Insurance Broking Services, says some health insurers have started covering Covid from day one in the existing health policy, consumables, home treatment, etc.
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has played a proactive role in nudging and directing insurance companies to wake up to the challenges faced by people due to the pandemic.
It had taken numerous steps like recognition of make-shift hospitals for Covid claims, standardized Covid policies, the inclusion of home treatment and coverage of telemedicine etc.
The regulator has also allowed the launch of vector-borne disease products.
While Covid-19 has forced many changes at the policy and distribution level, do these changes come at a cost - increased compliance or premium? While insurance companies claim that there has been little or no additional compliance burden on policyholders post the Covid pandemic, insurance brokers and experts say insurers have been more vigilant while offering new policies.
“We do not ask for any additional information during the renewal of any policy with us. However, during the first purchase of the health insurance policy, customers must declare all health conditions/ treatments taken/hospitalisations as detailed above,” says Datta.
Mondal says in order to encourage and promote vaccination, they are going to offer additional discounts on health products to those who have taken both the doses and hence they are enquiring about vaccination status.
However, he says, any member who has suffered from Covid-19 is being treated at par with other ailments.
“Only the basic information which are enquired for any kind of medical history is being sought in such cases,” he says.
Jitendra Singh of Swastika Insurance Broking Services says, to avoid misuse of new features and benefits added in their policies, insurance companies have set a basic minimum benchmark for compliance to ensure that the policy is not misused.
After the breakout of the Covid pandemic, health insurance products have changed for the better. However, prospective buyers and existing policyholders must be aware of all the features and benefits and their relevance to ensure they get the maximum out of their policies.
Major changes in health insurance products
Launch and standardization of Covid-specific policies.
Recognition of make-shift hospitals for Covid claims.
Inclusion of home treatment under health policies.
The advent of short-term policies with tenure less than a year.
Coverage for tele-medicines and consumables.