Health Insurance for All: Mental Health

Articles Health Collective Reporter's Diary

By The Health Collective

Is Mental Healthcare in India coming of age? It might be premature to celebrate, but there is a huge and significant move that looks at ensuring that mental healthcare is treated on par with physical or general medical healthcare. There is a directive to insurers to ensure medical insurance for treatment of mental illness on the same basis as is available for treatment of physical illness, from the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDA).

This follows on from the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, which, under the right to equality and non discrimination, S. 21 (4), states that: “Every insurer shall make provision for medical insurance for treatment of mental illness on the same basis as is available for treatment of physical illness.”

 

 “This is a big step. Mental health treated on par (with) physical illness by providing insurance for treatments will help stifle stigma, encourage conversations, increase help-seeking behaviour, ensure therapists get better paid, and improve quality of therapy overall,” Nelson Vinod Moses, Founder of the Suicide Prevention India Foundation, one of the first to share the news, tells The Health Collective.

A huge number of Indians could use that sort of coverage. An India Spend report highlighted that 60 million Indians suffer from mental disorders, while a survey by the National Institute of Mental Health and NeuroSciences (NIMHANS) states that 13.7 % of the adult population in India suffers from some form of mental illness. And yet, India spends only about 0.04% of its health budget on mental healthcare.

This latest development clearly has a lot riding on it.

“This is extremely important as it establishes the principle of parity of mental illness with physical illness. One by one, we will have to knock down discrimination against mental illness in all sectors, beginning with the health sector!” Dr Soumitra Pathare, Consultant Psychiatrist and Coordinator, Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy at the Indian Law Society, tells The Health Collective.

Image Courtesy IRDA site

Why is there a need for mental healthcare insurance?

Mental healthcare insurance at the very onset provides for expenses coverage for related treatment and care, which can often be crippling and the reason behind reduced access to such services. For e.g., a single consultation with a leading therapist can be around 1,500-2,500 Rs. in major cities. Consultations with psychiatrists can be even more expensive, additional costs of medication also raises monthly expenditure on mental healthcare drastically.

Read our earlier piece on Mental Health Insurance here, including for more on international best practices.

Having accessible insurance coverage can also help tackle the stigma that surrounds mental health in India, by “normalising” the existence of mental illness, and potentially providing for an effective channel for information dissemination relating to mental healthcare.

Dr Avinash De Sousa, a consultant psychiatrist and Research Officer (Sion Hospital, Mumbai) tells The Health Collective, “It is important to realise that mental health problems are life-long problems. They are problems that need treatment for years, which involve medication, therapy…If mental illness is looked at as on par with physical illness then there would be more people who would probably come for help once they know that insurance companies are going to provide them relief from the expenses that may be incurred.”

Also Read: Mental Health in India: Which Treatment Model Works Best?

 

This post is being updated to include more reactions and quotes. Share your thoughts with us here or @healthcollectif!

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