‘Pandemic to give a push to health cover’

Coronavirus has brought about a big shift in health insurance and the industry is bound to witness some positive shifts besides facing some new challenges too.

This was how industry experts assessed the impact of the pandemic on insurers as well as people in a Webinar on Health Insurance: Is Covid-19 an inflection point? organised as part of the BusinessLine Knowledge Series on Friday.

The discussion was moderated by Naga Sridhar, Deputy Editor, The Hindu BusinessLine.

Under these difficult circumstances, one would have normally expected a sharp increase in health insurance coverage. But that has not happened.

“The insurance industry is also wondering what is happening in the midst of the Corona pandemic,’’ said G Srinivasan, Director, National Insurance Academy and former Chairman and Managing Director of The New India Assurance Co.

While awareness on insurance has gone up significantly in the past few months, its conversion to actual subscriptions have been surprisingly low.

Low subscriptions

“The growth in subscription has not been to the extent that we have seen in the last year. I would have really expected health insurance to grow by 100-200 per cent during this period,” he said, adding “I think it is ideal time for insurance sector to innovate.”

He cited complexity of products and some ‘trust deficit’ among the people as possible causes for lower than potential growth in coverage.

Anand Roy, Managing Director, Star Health and Allied Insurance said Covid-19 has altered the nature and perceptions of health insurance.

“All these years, health insurance was a push product and people were not aware of all its benefits.

“After the pandemic broke out, the realisation of importance of health insurance has gone up,’’ he said.

Push and pull factor

He attributed lower settlement ratio (compared to life insurance) to the presence of an intermediary in the form of hospital. There is some kind of push and pull between the payer and provider and there is some challenge there, he said. The trust deficit, he added, was largely during the onboarding. But he pointed out that the regulator has given the customer the power to choose any health insurance provider, and they are availing it. Lot of portability is happening both inwards and outwards.

Ravi Vishwanath, President – Accident and Health, HDFC Ergo highlighted the importance of pricing. “Pricing insurance is an art and a science and has to be backed by data, which is lacking in India. Since health care involves life-long care, it is a challenge to package it well. This calls for electronic health records and genetic data,’’ he said.

K Nitya Kalyani, Independent Insurance Sector Expert, advised that the quantum of cover should be seen as a function of one’s age, health-profile, life-style and tariff levels in hospitals for different treatments. It might be beneficial to choose an insurer by the track record of claim settlement, service and complaint redressal mechanism, she said.

The penelists also discussed the need for improving trust deficit, simplifying and standardising the policies, Covid-specific policies that have entered the market, and do’s and don’ts that consumers and insurance firms should follow to improve the industry as a whole. A recording of the webinar is available on BusinessLine’s YouTube channel.

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