For Disabled People in India, Securing Health Insurance Is Still a Difficult Task

Securing health insurance is a significant step toward affordability. But in India, the higher the disability, the more difficult it becomes to gain insurance.

New Delhi: Arman Ali, the executive director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), secured health insurance in mid-October after a seven-year struggle.

Ali, who uses a wheelchair, is one of about 27 million people in India who live with disabilities.

The majority of the disabled population in India does not have access to affordable healthcare services, according to a statement issued by NCPEDP, an organisation that has been advocating for the healthcare rights of people with disabilities for years.

Securing health insurance is a significant step toward affordability. But in India, the higher the disability, the more difficult it becomes to gain insurance.

India uses a rating system to evaluate a person’s degree of disability. Per this system, Ali’s degree of disability is 80%.

Ali told The Wire that over the past seven years, he has made several attempts to apply for insurance, but was met with rejections and no explanations.

“I have gone through tests, given all my papers and documents, handed it back and forth, and they denied it and didn’t give me an explanation,” he said. “So that’s very painful. You don’t know where it’s going wrong, whether it’s your disability, whether it’s your health condition, and so on.”

Further, the lack of health insurance coverage for assistive technology like Ali’s wheelchair is a problem, globally.

The WHO Global Report on Assistive Technology said 2.5 billion people globally require assistive technology. It said that while data is limited, in Africa and Asia, surveys showed largely unmet needs, ranging from 25% to over 90% due to high costs, lack of financing, availability, awareness and a lack of trained personnel. These unmet needs are only heightened by the difficulty in getting assistive technology insured.

Ali finally secured insurance of Rs 5 lakh coverage through Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd, a private insurance company, and got his wheelchair insured under the all-risk cover policy of SBI General Insurance. He said that the coverage was a “momentous step forward”.

Ideally, his insurance would cover his assistive technology needs and services like rehabilitation and physiotherapy.

He said gaining insurance for his wheelchair instils hope and inspiration for the millions of people with disabilities and elderly people who use a variety of assistive devices for their activities of daily living.

He said he sent emails and letters to the managing directors and CEOs of 26 public and private general insurance companies, but received no response from almost 40% of the companies. Eventually, he received an offer from SBI General.

Poor response from government hospitals

Ali said that discrimination in accessing healthcare continues to be a reality.

He said in terms of response, government insurance companies perform the poorest. They did not get back to him despite multiple follow-ups from other organisations.

This, despite the Delhi high court saying that insurance products should be designed to enable people with disabilities to obtain health insurance coverage and that people with disabilities cannot be discriminated against.

Ali said he hopes to instil hope among many people by sharing the news of his health insurance coverage. He believes there’s an acute lack of awareness among disabled people.

“They don’t know how to navigate the process of obtaining insurance and it becomes a huge cost for the families and disabled people themselves,” he said.

Ali said this lack of understanding extends to insurance companies as well.

“There’s a need to build awareness [on insurance products for disabled people], and the government should also incentivise or come up with schemes that include all people with disabilities under Ayushman Bharat,” he said.

“The challenges around understanding blood disorders and insurance will not be resolved until and unless we build our understanding around it.”

In August, NCPEDP in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission and Insurance Regulatory Development Authority of India (IRDAI) held a stakeholders consultation with disability advocacy organisations in Mumbai where he said both private and government insurance companies were present.