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SC issues notice to Centre, IRDA on plea seeking insurance for mental illness treatment

According to the petition, insurance companies do not cover treatment of mental illness despite a mandate under the Mental Healthcare Act 2017

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday issued notice on a petition seeking directions to insurance companies to provide medical insurance coverage for treatment of mental illness.

The bench comprising Justices R.F. Nariman, Navin Sinha and B.R. Gavai sought a response from the central government and the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority of India (IRDA) on the plea.

The petition, filed by advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal, submits that insurance companies have not been providing coverage for mental illnesses, despite a mandate under the Mental Healthcare Act 2017.

Section 21(4) of the Act specifically states, “Every insurer shall make provision for medical insurance for treatment of mental illness on the same basis as is available for treatment of physical illness.”

In lieu with this, IRDA had also issued a circular to all insurers in August 2018, asking them to comply with the provisions of the 2017 Act.

Bansal submits that he had filed an RTI application in January last year, seeking to know how many insurers had complied with the circular, and if any action had been taken against those who had not complied with it.

Bansal was, however, informed in February last year that none of the insurers implemented the order, and that no action had been taken against them.

Asserting that the situation hasn’t changed since then, he submits, “Despite the fact that one year has passed, situation as far as implementation of Section 21(4) of MHCA-2017 remains the same and what surprised the petitioner is that instead of REGULATING insurance companies, Respondent No. 2 (IRDA) is acting more like a facilitator for Insurers.”

Also read: Not broken health systems but digital technology can help reduce mental illness stigma

Discrimination against those with mental illness

Section 21 of the 2017 Act also bars discrimination against people with mental illnesses and states that they should be treated at par with people with physical illnesses.

Accordingly, it says that emergency facilities and services for mental illnesses should be “of the same quality and availability” as those for people with physical illnesses, and that their living conditions in health establishments should also be the same.

Bansal now alleges that IRDA have been “reluctant in taking immediate action” and that its “biasness… is in itself discrimination against persons with mental illness”.

Due to this discrimination, he contends, “Thousands of persons who are fit for discharge but are languishing in mental hospitals have been deprived of getting health insurance schemes which ultimately will harm their path of rehabilitation.”

Also read: A huge mental health crisis awaits India post-Covid, but only the power of community will help


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