While 49-year-old Mukund Murli got away with a Rs 20,000 bill for his hospital stay due to a health cover purchased by his employer, fellow Chennai resident S Hari Charan had to take a personal loan, which requires him to pay an EMI of Rs 6,500 for four years to clear his hospital bill.
The surge in cases and the subsequent capacity constraints are forcing the middle-class to avail of private healthcare services they cannot afford. Manoj Dubey found himself paying out-of-pocket to the extent of Rs 5 lakh after his two children and uninsured aged parents were hit by Covid, requiring hospitalisation.
Although Dubey had insurance for his wife and kids, he had to borrow from family and friends due to the non-availability of cashless treatment. There are several stories of companies going the extra mile to help employees through financial support, but there are also thousands who have lost livelihood or suffered pay cuts. Those who lost their jobs face the double whammy of losing income as well as their employer’s group health cover.
Financial planners say that the pandemic has underlined the need for health insurance now more than at any other time in the past. Last year, the insurance regulator asked companies to offer a low-cost cover for Covid treatment — Corona Kavach. This cover was to expire in March this year, but the regulator has told companies they can renew it until September. While over a crore have already availed of the policy, there is still a very large uninsured population.
“It can be a financial nightmare. It could be a once-a-year premium for medical insurance of Rs 6,041, or without it Rs 6,600 a month for four years if a personal loan is availed of,” said Suresh Parthasarathy, CEO of financial planner myassetsallocation. When there is a Covid infection, in many cases, more than one family member gets infected. “The costs rise proportionately,” Parthasarathy added.
The MD of Star Health, S Prakash, said insurers settle 90% of required medical treatment costs and at least 50% of protective equipment. “For the premium one pays, he gets tax breaks, and a continuing policy will give the policyholder accruing benefits. We are seeing more people signing up for policies now,” said Prakash. Insurance aggregator InsuranceDekho’s co-founder & CEO Ankit Agarwal said, “In the current scenario, customer awareness around the need for protection has increased. The pandemic is changing the dynamics of the general insurance industry. Health insurance having overtaken the motor insurance business for the first time ever to emerge as the largest portfolio in the general insurance industry.”