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  • Writer's pictureDevavrat Harshe

Mental Healthcare Act 2017 in India: How can it benefit those with mental illnesses?

In 2017, government of India passed the Mental Healthcare Act (MHCA) 2017. The law is stated to bring a paradigm shift in mental healthcare in India. Let us look into one of the provisions of the act which can be definitely helpful for patients with mental illnesses (PMI) and their caregivers.

The act offers big change from existing legislature of the country and plans to add a few benefits for patients as well as their caregivers. In this article, I will discuss one important provision that will solve a few problems for patients as well as their relatives.

The act has now been in implementation across India.

Insurance for psychiatric illnesses and treatment.

You will notice that, almost all government schemes, such as the MPJAY scheme in Maharashtra, or the PMJAY across the nation do cover treatments for psychiatric illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder. However when it comes to private insurance companies, such facilities are not available.

If you currently own a health insurance policy from a private company, a close inspection of the clauses and exclusions will state that psychiatric illnesses including suicide attempts are excluded under said policy. What it means is, if the policy holder develops a psychiatric illness, his treatment will not be covered under said policy whatsoever. This created a lot of problems for patients for two reasons:

1) Psychiatric illnesses can occur even after some stressor at any point in life, and, to deny insurance cover to a person for that illness was unfair.

2) Often, patients with psychiatric illnesses develop medical illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, stroke etc. It was seen that sometimes, their psychiatric illnesses created a lot of hassles and headaches in their claim getting honored.

This lead to a significant lack of access to mental healthcare for many people, as mental healthcare even in a government setup requires financial support due to need for travel, buying medications, continuing therapy and many more reasons.

The new law, in its section 21 subsection 4 clearly states that

"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."

The act came into force on May 29, 2018 and therefore, this provision has been in effect since then. Taking a cognizance of this, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) published a circular on August 16 2018 (IRDA/HLT/MISC/CIR/128/08/2018 ) asking all insurance companies to comply to this provision of the MHCA 2017.

What should you do if you, or someone close to you suffers from a mental illness?

First and foremost, seek advise from your doctor and then, your financial advisor about your and your family's insurance needs. Then, if you decide to buy a health insurance policy, beforehand, have a chat with the insurance agent and make sure that the company complies to the provisions of the MHCA 2017 and the policy covers mental illnesses as well.

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