Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Devil and the Deep Sea

India’s elderly population are literally caught between the devil and the deep sea. The government might have provided adequate incentives in the budget for children to buy medical insurance for their ageing parents; but it is not working well. For in the entirely money-driven economy that we live in today, the elderly are not insurable and pose a business risk where the claims will be possibly higher than the premiums realized.


Strangely speaking, the public sector insurers – who are supposedly meant to have a conscience against the private ones, are not better in dealing with our senior citizens. According to the Business Standard, "A senior public sector general insurance company executive admitted that certain senior citizens may not be readily ‘insurable’ by industry standards, thanks to medical conditions; for example, people above 70 years of age. Most insurance companies are today reluctant to allot policies to senior citizens on grounds of ‘unprofitable businesses.

In a business and incentive driven business, even agents who typically are meant to have a long lasting and personalized relationship with their clients, have begun to start to look the other way. The insurance companies who are otherwise chasing business by drumming up clients by offering commissions to agents are not interested in securing the business of the senior citizens or for that matter any one above the age of 55 as they are the ones more likely to raise claims.

They are more likely to tom tom to all who care to hear about their reduced premiums for 20 year olds who are least likely in the prime of health hardly likely to fall sick and prefer claims. While no one of course disputes the need of insurance companies to make profits and survive in the market, the current stance of health insurers is akin to the man who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining and then takes it back when it is running. This way of functioning defeats the very purpose of insurance.

Studies of household expenditure have shown that health care can use up to 40 per cent of a poor family's budget.

Narratives track the trajectories of households over the years: Illness leads to health care expense; usually this means a progressively higher level of care that becomes less and less affordable; this leads to debt, and it also means death, surprisingly often. It is easy to assume that death translates into change in the economic base of the family and has intergenerational impact only when it is of an able and earning male member of the household.

Although the government has announced schemes like the Varishtha Mediclaim, the schemes often come with fine print riders that put them out of reach of many. In many instances, the premium rates have been such that the schemes would be out of reach of many and the insurance regulator has had to step in to warn the companies. To sum it up,

The non-availability of enough products for older people, particularly senior citizens, who need medical insurance the most, and the lack of willingness among the insurance companies to sell such products to them mean that even if you want to buy a health cover for your aged parents, you may be unable to get them adequately covered.

Meanwhile, until we sort all this out, our parents and grand parents continue to swim in the choppy waters of uncertainty.

1 comment:

Emma Jayne said...

wow what in educational blog entry. I must admit the majority went completely over my head but I get the basic understanding which I think I need. Thank you for sharing the information.