India's insurance regulator has set a deadline to cover mental health

Irdai has said that all products should comply with the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 by Oct. 31.
India's insurance regulator has set a deadline to cover mental health
Photo: Fayaz Kabli (Reuters)
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India’s insurance watchdog has set Oct. 31 as the deadline for all health insurance products to make provisions for mental illness.

They must comply with the provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017, without any deviation. The Act came into effect on May 5, 2018.

“...all the insurance products that are in force on or after the date of MHC Act, 2017 coming into force shall be deemed to provide cover for Mental Illness diseases,” the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India’s Oct. 18 circular has said.

Mental health status in India

In 2019, the World Health Organization estimated that 7.5% of Indians were affected by mental health disorders and that this was likely to increase significantly because of the pandemic.

Yet, more than 80% of Indians lack access to mental healthcare services, according to data by the Bengaluru-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (Nimhans), due to a lack of knowledge, social stigma, and high cost of care.

To bridge the gap, the Indian government announced National Tele-Mental Health Programme for round-the-clock counselling services for free in its union budget for 2022-2023. The allocation was about 932.13 crore rupees ($112.5 million) for the fiscal. But that may not be enough.

The number of mental healthcare professionals in the country remains abysmal.

“There are still practical limitations, as only hospitalisation is covered under these policies, and not just doctor consultation or medicines,” Avinash Ramachandran, chief operating officer of an insurance distribution company Assurekit told The Economic Times newspaper.