No access to mental health insurance, patients suffer

City Health

The Mental Healthcare Act made it mandatory for insurance companies to provide people with mental health insurance. Yet, people suffering from mental health issues complain that insurance companies fail to do so.

By Nikita Arora

Khushi Bhutani, 23, visits Aleesha Rahmath, a psychiatrist at NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences) twice a month for therapy. She has completed five out of ten sessions and is now thinking of quitting therapy. 

“As much as I like going to therapy, I cannot really deny the fact that these sessions are literally oozing out all my money, session by session. I have no choice but to quit therapy right now. What’sworse is the fact that I am just a student. I do not want to burden my parents with these expenditures.” said Khushi. 

Another patient, Ishita K., who takes therapy with Aleesha, said, “Therapies undoubtedly are quite expensive. The only reason I am able to continue with it is that I am doing quite well for myself. However, there are times when I have tried to opt for mental health insurance because my situation is getting worse day by day.”

Ishita said that she has contacted several insurance companies but didn’t get any response. They ask her to take health insurance because they don’t have a mental health insurance scheme. “My point is, hardly anybody at present understands that health insurance is starkly different form mental health insurance. The government has successfully brought a Mental Health Care Act in place but the on-ground reality is different, it’s taking a lot of time to implement this.” 

Mental Healthcare Act states that “every insurer shall make provision for medical insurance for treatment of mental illness on the same basis as is available for the treatment of physical illness”. The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, defines mental illness as a “substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs, but does not include mental retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, especially characterised by sub-normality of intelligence”.  

Sanjay Kumar, Branch Manager at a private bank in Meerut, denied all these claims. He said, “Our customer representatives right now are not aware that mental health insurance exists. We are working towards educating them. However, rest assured, there is mental health insurance in place and anyone can opt for it.” 

A report titled, “Health Insurance and Mental Illness” in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry states, “One of the important provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, in section 21 (4), is the inclusion of “mental illnesses” for health insurance coverage.” It also mentions how the inclusion of mental illness “is a progressive step toward(s) considering mental illness at par with physical illness”. 

Aleesha Rahmath said, “The issue here is that the government as well as the insurance companies ought to take this seriously. There are so many people in India who cannot avail proper treatment not because this is a social taboo, but because it is really expensive.” 

Image Credits: Rhythima Agarwal


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