Industry

Time to go beyond COVID-19 health cover

Illustration: J.A. Premkumar  

COVID-19 has spread to more than 213 countries, infecting over 30 million people in different parts of the world. The U.S. remains the worst-hit country by the pandemic with cases soaring up to 6.8 million and fatalities at 2.05 lakh followed by India with 5.2 million cases and 85,000 people who have lost their lives.

As per the World Health Organisation’s latest epidemiological update, the novel coronavirus continues to spread.

The pandemic has changed the health insurance landscape in the country completely in numerous ways. People have now started to take health insurance more seriously; insurers believe that the new trends that have surfaced in the last couple of months will continue in the post-COVID-19 era as well.

Now, there’s an urgency driven by the fear of contracting the virus. Numbers from the industry tell us that most general and specialised health insurers have witnessed an increase in demand for health insurance policies by almost 40% between April and August, from a year earlier.

The growth is quite enough to prove that India has successfully set a brilliant example of showcasing that having an insurance policy as a fixed part of financial planning is of utmost importance.

However, what we must not forget is while COVID-19 may be the latest nail in the coffin, it is certainly not the last. The pandemic is not the only thing eroding health and livelihood.

The numbers

While COVID-19 continues to take centrestage, all other severe ailments and conditions have been sidelined, causing immeasurable suffering.

No doubt, COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease but its mortality rate is quite low compared with other pandemics in the past, including ebola, smallpox and SARS. Till the time of writing this article — in a span of almost six months — COVID-19 has claimed about 85,000 lives in India, which has a population of almost 1.4 billion, with a mortality rate of less than 2%.

Also, of the total number of health insurance claims recorded from April till August, COVID-19-related claims account for merely 11% — as per data from Policybazaar.com, which accounts for about 10% of India’s retail health insurance market. On the other hand, some major lifestyle diseases and conditions account for many more deaths per year.

Each year, in India, more than 7.8 lakh people die due to different types of cancer, almost 3.7 lakh lives are lost following cardiovascular ailments, and three lakh and two lakh people die due to gastroenteritis and kidney diseases, respectively. Yet, questions around COVID-19 coverage remain among the most frequently asked, by customers in a country where health insurance penetration is a measly 4%.

Now let’s compare cost of treatment for various conditions. For a COVID-19 infection, on average, the cost of treatmentwithout ventilators or other life-saving equipment is about ₹10,000 — ₹15,000 daily.

That makes for ₹1.5—₹2 lakh for 14 days in urban areas and ₹75,000—₹1 lakh in semi-urban and rural areas. However, the cost of treatment of cancer often crosses ₹20 lakh, including surgery and chemo sessions.

For treating kidney-related ailments, the cost is about ₹5—₹7 lakh, while for cardiovascular ailments one has to spend about ₹4 — ₹7 lakh.

Comprehensive plan

Hence, we can easily conclude that COVID-19 accounts for a very small fraction of deaths in our country. Also, the cost of treatment is lower than for other ailments. Yet, consumers are giving COVID-19 a disproportionate amount of importance when buying a health insurance policy. It is observed that most consumers are buying policies specific to the treatment of COVID-19 and not other ailments. However, this approach may turn out to be costly. While COVID-19 may get over as soon as a vaccine is launched, lifestyle-related ailments and other serious conditions requiring hospitalisation are here to stay.

While buying health cover, you must consider the significant mortality and treatment cost of all major illnesses. In such a scenario, insurance is no longer a luxury that can be overlooked. Health insurance, has become a necessity and must hold its ground even in a conservative and minimalistic savings and investment plan.

It is important to stay financially protected against a pandemic and other ailments that may strike at any age. In situations like these, the only way to stay financially protected is by buying a comprehensive health insurance policy. If one gets hospitalised for treating COVID-19 infection, the overall health insurance plan will help cover medical expenses for this condition as well.

Buying health insurance not just for yourself but for your entire family is important to make sure your hospital admission and treatment expenses are covered seamlessly.

(The author is Health Business Head, Policybazaar.com)

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 9:16:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/time-to-go-beyond-covid-19-health-cover/article32650294.ece

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