The health insurance industry has been directed to cover those with mental illnesses by India’s apex insurance regulator.
“Every insurer shall make provision for medical insurance for treatment of mental illness,” the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) told the country’s 33 insurance firms in a circular.
IRDAI’s instructions come on the heels of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, which passed through India’s Parliament last year and came into effect in May this year. The Act included provisions for the insurance of the mentally ill on an equal basis with those suffering from physical ailments. However, none of the country’s insurance companies had complied with aspect of the law to date. They have been directed to do so with immediate effect.
The news will surely come as a relief for the millions of Indians suffering from mental health conditions. Approximately 13.7 percent of Indians are believed to suffer from some form of mental illness – yet availing treatment is difficult.
“The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017…included provisions for the insurance of the mentally ill on an equal basis with those suffering from physical ailments. However, none of the country’s insurance companies had complied with aspect of the law to date.”
Just ten percent of those in need of mental healthcare avail it. Such gaps in treatment can be explained by the absence of mental healthcare professionals. India has just 5,000 psychiatrists and fewer than 2,000 clinical psychologists to service its entire population. This shortage of specialists means that, all too often, the mental health needs of many Indians go unaddressed.
The decision of IRDAI means that, for some Indians suffering from mental health disorders, treatment can now be more easily accessed. Yet the country needs to do more work on mental illness, which continues to be the subject of much stigma and discrimination in India. Vulnerable groups, such as farm workers and students, commit suicide with frightening regularity.
Despite this, government expenditure on mental healthcare remains pitifully low, at just 0.07 percent of the country’s total health budget. Now that insurance companies have been told to provide care for India’s mentally ill, perhaps it is time that the government receives a similar directive.