Hyderabad: Hailed by many as a landmark notification towards mainstreaming mental illness, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), on Friday, directed all insurance companies to provide coverage for treatment of mental illness, just like they provide coverage to physical illness.
The progressive decision of IRDAI comes in the wake of Mental Health Act, 2017, which has come into effect from this May. In its notification, IRDAI said As per Sec 21 (4) of the Mental Health Act, 2017, every insurer should make provision for medical insurance for treatment of mental illness on the same basis as is available for treatment of physical illness.
“All insurance companies are hereby directed to comply with the provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 with immediate effect,” the IRDAI notification made it clear.
While welcoming the IRDAI move, sector experts said this was a first attempt by health authorities to give equal priority to both physical and mental illness. The Mental Health Care Act, 2017 will have far-reaching implications as it has provisions to make insurance company owners and persons-in charge of insurance companies liable for penal action for violating rights the rights of the patients.
Senior sector experts have accepted that the notification will herald a new chapter in mental illness care in the country. More clarity is needed on whether the insurance companies will provide for outpatient services because a lot of mental healthcare services are also day care services
“It’s a new beginning for mental health care in the country. At present, there are many families, who have insurance and struggling with mental illness, but end-up spending from their own pocket. This decision will bring a lot of relief for them,” said president, Telangana Psychiatric Society, Dr D Keshav Rao.
Experts also described the IRDAI move as progressive. “This is a progressive decision, a long-existing wrong has been corrected. It will enhance access for those insured needing mental health services and help reduce the stigma associated with mental illnesses,” Dr Anant Bhan, Researcher, Global Health and president of International Association of Bioethics.
The senior public health researcher said IRDAI should follow-up to ensure that companies comply by expanding the scope of their products, and that the companies do not increase the product charges too exorbitantly for these changes.
“This is though just one of the important steps required in mental healthcare reform in India. There is a need to enhance respectful, rights-based mental health coverage for everyone who needs it, including those who might not have the means to buy an insurance policy and for that to happen, reform in public sector too must happen,” Dr Bhan added.