Women have made substantial progress over the last two decades. However, unfortunately, health and lifestyle risks have risen significantly. Health insurance plans have hardly adapted to cater to these new needs and risks of the modern women.
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Urban women juggle work and home. This coupled with a possibly unhealthy city lifestyle ‑ such as low quality of sleep, no exercise ‑ leads to an alarming level of stress. It’s now a common sight to see women in their 30s suffer from lifestyle diseases such as back aches, tiredness, fatigue and headaches. Many women ignore or tend to overlook these symptoms, as suggested by various surveys, which lead to complications. Thus, the number of women suffering from lifestyle diseases like diabetes, back-related diseases, thyroid, cardiovascular, infertility has grown four-fold in the last decade.
Here a list of what women should demand from their health insurance:
Coverage for infertility: Increased stress and unhealthy lifestyle, excessive pollution, and higher age of marriage have resulted in higher incidences of infertility. Recent surveys show that one in eight women suffer from infertility. While the cost of treating infertility is extremely expensive, it is not covered under most health insurance plans in India, including plans facilitated by employers for their employees. Many insurers have found infertility expensive and do not interpret it as an illness. Now that the incidences have increased substantially along with the financial burden, there is an increasing demand for insurance coverage for infertility even at the cost of paying a larger premium. Insurers may like to provide such coverage at an additional cost.
Coverage for maternity complications: A woman's fertility peaks in the early and mid-20s, after which it starts to decline slowly, with a dramatic drop at around the age of 35. With more and more women opting for a career, the marriage age has shifted dramatically, especially in the urban parts of India, which in turn has resulted in lower fertility. Higher age of marriage can hence result in increased complications at the time of childbirth. Most policies today do not cover maternity or newborn baby, as starting a family is a matter of choice for the couple and not a disease that should need financial support. While it is the insurer’s call not to cover maternity, it makes sense to cover the super expensive costs associated with life-threatening risks and complications that arise out of maternity to the mother or the newborn baby.
Benefit cover for women-related illnesses like cancer (breast, cervical cancer): Since the last decade, there have been higher incidences of cancer in women in India. What’s more alarming is the fact that the 180 degree change in lifestyle has reduced the average age of breast cancer from 45 to 35. Rising incidence of cancer in women, especially breast cancer and cervical cancer, raises demands for additional coverage or a benefit rider for critical illness in health insurance. There is hardly any chance that women will scout for a separate cover for such risks and cover themselves. Hence, it makes sense to make it part of the base cover, may be as a rider. This will make the health insurance a comprehensive solution for women.
Differential premium: Differential health risks associated with women, coupled with lower mortality rates demand a differential premium for women. Further, the coverage of health insurance among women is much lower than men. Though direct data is not available, claims data published by Insurance Information Bureau (IIB) show that in 2013-14, 70 percent of total claims honored were those of males. Insurers should introduce lower pricing for women to encourage higher penetration of health insurance coverage in women.
Should medical insurers take the above steps, urban women in India as an outcome will get a more comprehensive and hassle-free medical insurance and alleviate some of their stresses.
The author is Director – Health, Life and Strategic Initiatives, Coverfox.com