Discrimination against people with mental illness on the rise

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A man in his 30s was recently admitted to a private hospital in Kochi for COVID-19 treatment. He was billed around 1.50 lakh but was denied coverage by the insurance company because he honestly admitted that he had previously undergone treatment for a mental disorder.

Another patient who had had abdominal surgery at a leading private hospital was also denied her request in the same way because she suffered from bipolar disorder.

While another World Mental Health Day is celebrated on Sunday, the fact remains that people with mental illness still face discrimination.

“Paradoxically, the theme of this year’s celebration is ‘Mental health in an unequal world’, even as patients with mental disorders continue to be treated unequally and their illness is used as a ruse for their lives. deny their legitimate rights. This is a flagrant violation of the right to equality and protection from discrimination as set out in the Mental Health Care Act 2017, ”said psychiatrist CJ John.

The law categorically states that “every insurer must provide medical insurance for the treatment of mental illnesses on the same basis as that available for the treatment of physical illnesses.”

Dr John observed that the cost of treating mental illness continues to be relatively low and patients don’t even bother to claim it or go to court for a claim denied due to the stigma associated with it. to disease. “However, we make them suffer even more by refusing requests even for the treatment of other diseases,” he lamented.

U. Vivek, consultant psychiatrist, lamented that years after the law was passed, it was observed increasingly in violation by a large part of the insurers.

“They’ve put too many barriers to dissuade people from applying for mental illness coverage. This amounts to a violation of the Indian Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority [IRDAI] notification and several decisions of the High Court and the Supreme Court. While insurance companies have started to allow claims of up to 25% of the cost of treating mental illnesses, this is still far from being considered comparable to other medical illnesses, ”said Dr Vivek.

The IRDAI via a circular in June last year had asked all insurers to offer coverage to people diagnosed with mental illnesses and asked all insurance companies in the country, whether life, health or general insurers, to comply with it by October 1, 2020.

PK Vijayakumar, former Insurance Ombudsman of Kerala and Lakshadweep, recalled how for a long time there was even a sadistic saying in the insurance community that “dental and mental” illnesses could be overlooked for insurance claims.

“But since the passage of the Mental Health Care Act, people can now challenge denial of claims in court. Insurance companies, however, continue to play in the gray zone between ignorance and willful denial in this matter for their convenience, ”he said.

Mr Vijayakumar observed that it is all the more important to cover mental illnesses in insurance policies given the surge in mental health problems following the pandemic.


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