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COVID-19 impact: How pandemic has changed customers' health insurance needs

COVID-19 impact: How pandemic has changed customers' health insurance needs

COVID-19 impact: How pandemic has changed customers' health insurance needs
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By CNBCTV18.com Contributor Oct 29, 2020 6:54:01 PM IST (Updated)

The relentless march of the COVID 19 pandemic across the globe and the subsequent socio-economic uncertainties it has brought in its wake have changed life as we know it.

Authored by Bhabatosh Mishra

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The relentless march of the COVID 19 pandemic across the globe and the subsequent socio-economic uncertainties it has brought in its wake have changed life as we know it. Almost all industries and sectors are having to adapt and adjust to the new normal, be it coming up with new products, or modifying already existing products and solutions.
The insurance industry also had to react quickly to this situation and develop new products. Traditionally, India has been largely under-insured, particularly in the area of health insurance, with only 18 per cent of the urban and 14 per cent of the rural population availing protective schemes.
But the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for increased awareness of health insurance and people have realized its importance for unforeseen health-related situations. According to a survey by Max Bupa, prior to the COVID -19 outbreak in India, only 10 percent of people were interested in buying health insurance. But now, a whopping 71 per cent of people believe that health insurance is a necessity.
The consumer wants more value for money beyond discounts.
Not only is the industry evolving, but people’s expectations are also seeing a massive change. The pandemic has brought about a definitive shift in the consumer mindset with a greater focus on their health and well-being. The growinguncertainties around incomes and the rising medical costs have led the consumer to want more value for their money.
Today, consumers are more aware of the fact that chronic ailments are not only a result of genetic factors but also a cumulative effect of years of behavioural patterns. So there is a greater focus on adopting healthy behaviours.
This means eating right, exercising right and being more proactive to overall health and wellness. In turn, consumers also want that they are given more reward options, other than just discounts, for demonstrating healthy behaviour and avoiding hospitalisations. Today’s consumers also lead extremely busy lives and want processes that are fast, hassle-free and transparent.
Advancements in technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learningand data science have transformed offerings from the health insurance industry, enabling them to give the consumers what they want.
What are some features that a good health insurance plan offers?
While the pervasive sentiment right now has a lot to do with protection against COVID 19, it is important to remember that health insurance is an investment for the long term. Today’s consumers, faced with a plethora of choices, need to keep some points in mind before deciding what type of policy is best suited for them:
Understand why comprehensive coverage is preferable: It is important to ensure that one is protected against all sorts of illnesses under a single plan. As the years go by, an individual’s health needs will evolve, as will the related financial requirements to meet these needs.
Research has shown that older people show greater susceptibility to critical illnesses which may require regular medical interventions. A good policy which offers comprehensive coverage can ensure that you are adequately prepared to weather any health contingencies in future.
Look for policies that offer limitless claims: There arehealth insurance plans that provideunlimited sum insured for any type of hospitalisation, including those related to COVID-19. This allows consumers to make as many claims as required for themselves, or for family members covered in the same policy, for the same or different illnesses in a year, at no additional cost.
In case of critical illnesses like kidney disease or cancer, patients need hospitalisation multiple times in the same year.
A kidney patient would require regular dialysis, or a cancer patient might need rounds of radiation, chemotherapy or surgery, in the space of a few months. So a limitless insurance plan that covers these kinds of multiple hospitalisations would work better.
Look at plans which offer holistic benefits beyond discounts:In the past, conventional health insurance only included coverage for hospitalisation and insurers offered no-claim benefits limited to premium discounts, depending on how healthy the insured individual was. But not anymore.
Recently, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) released guidelines allowing insurers to include wellness and preventive features as additional benefits for those following a fit lifestyle. This includes vouchers for memberships to gyms, yoga centres, nutritional counselling, and, of course, discount on renewal premium, and an increase in sum insured.
Enjoy the convenience of end-to-end digital services: Another important innovation is the massive shift towards digitalisation of processes. Not only is this in keeping with the minimised contact service delivery norms, but it also caters to today’s consumers who expect quick turnaround time in service delivery.
Smart digital engagement tools such as chatbots are helping customers access a range of services such as claims status and tax receipts from the safety and comfort of their homes. In fact, almost all processes, from onboarding and underwriting to settlement of claims get done faster with the help of cutting-edge technologies. Rather than having to wait weeks or months, as was the case earlier, today it is possible for claims to be settled in a matter of a few hours.
This translates into a seamless and more satisfactory customer experience, one that is faster, more convenient and safer. Other advantages include transparency and cost benefits. Customers can also save time by not having to constantly follow up with the insurance provider.
Choose a cashless health insurance product: In health emergencies, a fully cashless product ensures that the insured doesn’t have to scramble at the last minute to arrange finances.
But even with cashless plans, some insurers exclude coverage for non-payable items such as some room charges and administrative expenses incurred on air conditioning, telephone, laundry, housekeeping, toiletries, admission kits, discharge procedure and patient identification tags, among others.
At times, these can add up to10-15 percent of the hospital bill, and the customer has no option but to pay from his or her own pocket. So it’s very important to be aware of what expenses are non-payable, and choose a 100 percent cashless product where you will not have to spend anything from your pocket.
Ensure that the insurer has healthy claim settlement ratio: Last but not the least, in order to have a truly hassle-free experience you need to do your homework and pick an insurer who has a high claim settlement ratio. This means that they settle more claims than others when compared to the total claims received.
Bhabatosh Mishra is Director Underwriting, Products & Claims at Max Bupa Health Insurance
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