No country for mental patients: Zero insurance cover for 15 crore people

NIMHANS study finds that 60 to 70 per cent of the patients are below the poverty line.

Published: 22nd November 2016 04:26 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd November 2016 04:26 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Though a recent national mental health survey conducted by National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) reveals that 15 crore Indians suffer from mental health illnesses, insurance companies don’t cover it.

Though most of them visit private practitioners, they drop out of treatment or in worst hit cases they don’t visit a doctor. All psychiatric and psychosomatic disorders do not get coverage in any medical insurance policy.

Dr B N Gangadhar, director, NIMHANS, said, “In our survey we found that the average expenditure incurred by a family per patient is `2,000. As 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the patients are Below Poverty Line (BPL) category they don’t have to pay, but other patients have to pay nominal charges for bed and blood tests.”

Dr Guru S Gowda, psychiatrist from NIMHANS, said, “There are mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and severe illnesses like bipolar disorders and schizophrenia. People affected with these become unemployed. They may not be able to earn their livelihood because of cognitive illness. They may require lifelong treatment with medication alone costing them,  ‘10,000 to ‘20,000 per month. May be that’s why insurance companies are apprehensive on giving coverage. Also, there’s no coverage for Alzheimers, dementia and mental retardation.”

Dr Raveesh B N, director, Dharwad Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, said, “Mental illness is not a life threatening disorder but a disabling one. That raises a question of whether they can pay premiums or not. Also, if alcoholics suffer from mental illnesses, insurance companies become apprehensive of covering them. These are grey areas. But on an average for one session of behavioural therapy it costs at least `1,000 in private hospitals. For 10 to 15 sessions, it would cost `10,000 to `15,000. Often, they have to follow up for six months to one year. They incur a substantial cost.”

He added that insurance companies fear that if they started covering mental health issues, everyone would start visiting doctors for stress related issues more often.    

But the good news is that if the Mental Health Bill that was passed in the Rajya Sabha recently, is passed in the Lok Sabha, it will ensure that mental illness gets insurance coverage like physical illness. “The Insurance Regulatory Development Authority shall ensure that all insurers make provisions for medical insurance for treatment of mental illness on the same basis as it is available for treatment of physical illness,” says the Bill.


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