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Buy health insurance early in life to save on treatment costs

Young Indians are so caught up in their gadget-driven lifestyles that medics and medical insurance is the last thing on their minds. However, if one opts for insurance, one automatically goes in for a check-up, blood tests and other tests — and gets a clean bill of health, or otherwise. Health insurance makes the insured person realize the importance of wellness, switch from a sedentary to a more active lifestyle, and ensure good health throughout one’s working life and beyond. Fortunately, young people in urban and rural areas are becoming aware of the perils of an unhealthful lifestyles on one hand and the need to improve physical and mental well being on the other.

However, despite the increasing awareness, number of medically insured is grossly inadequate. Less than 15% of India’s 1,100 crore people have individual, government or corporate insurance. According to the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), 86% of rural patients and 82% of urban patients do not have access to any form of employer-provided or state-funded insurance. As a result, people are paying for medical expenses from their own pockets.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated 70% of Indians pay for their own medical expenses compared to 30%-40% in other Asian countries like Sri Lanka. This places a huge financial burden on individuals without insurance as well as on healthcare services.

With the cost of healthcare including invasive treatment going up, young Indians would do well to buy insurance when they are still young — for the benefits outweigh the risks. For instance, youngsters in the age group of 20-35 get wider coverage at lower premiums. The opposite is true as one grows older.

Realising the importance of bringing young Indians under the insurance umbrella, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (Irdai) notified the New Health Insurance Regulations, 2016, which, among other things, determines premium based on one’s age. Early insurance buyers will now pay lower premium rates and will also be eligible for no claim bonus. This will encourage more youngsters to buy insurance — and stay insured.

The new rules have prompted health insurers to launch unique products that cater to youngsters. Some companies are promoting wellness and preventive care even as they encourage youth to buy insurance. Insurers also interact with customers and provide them with information on new services and tips on how to stay healthy, conduct health camps and intimate them about renewal of premiums. This helps establish long-term trust and relationship between company and customer.

Today, the share of public expenditure on healthcare is just over 1% of GDP, which is abysmal considering that 4,000-5,000 crore people are ailing at any point of time and an undisclosed number is stricken with lifestyle diseases including hypertension, cardiac problems and diabetes.

And, if one thinks of the 3,560 crore people in the age group of 10-24 year, medical insurance becomes an absolute necessity, more so, in these stressful times. Treating illnesses without adequate insurance can wipe out savings, put quality medical aid out of reach, result in job loss, and leave one in debt or even penury. Health insurance can help cushion the blows.

The writer is senior executive director, Star Health & Allied Insurance Co Ltd