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Star Health to cover COVID vaccine cost under annual health check-up: MD Dr S Prakash

Starhealth S Prakash healthinsurance

Star Health & Allied insurance is planning to cover the cost of Coronavirus vaccine as the part of its annual health check-up offering to the customers.

“As an in-patient if somebody is admitted and the COVID vaccine is given, we include it in our claims pay-out and in the annual health-check-ups we offer as an incentive to our customers. Instead of a routine health-check-up, if one wants to take vaccine, we have also included the cost into that,” Star Health Insurance MD Dr S Prakash told Moneymonc.

Health insurers in India are seeing a massive surge in claims with the second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. “Certainly, this is a very painful phase that we are passing through. The number of claims is increasing tremendously compared to the last year as back then private hospitals were not handling Covid cases but now all hospitals are equipped and welcome Coronavirus patients. “

The health insurance industry is facing not just rising Covid claims but an equal amount of non-covid claims too.

During the lockdown in 2020, most of the elective surgeries were postponed and the health insurance industry was mainly inundated with only Covid claims.

“But in the second wave, there has been an increase in the number of Covid cases – more than the peak we saw last year and at a much higher velocity. So, there is an increase in the number of Covid-19 claims and alongside non-COVID claims like cancer, eye diseases related claims are also increasing,” Dr Prakash said.

Star Health is leveraging its telemedicine team to help people deal with Covid.

“We have an exclusive telemedicine vertical where we have qualified doctors particularly physicians who are trained in Covid-19 management. We give them the necessary advice not only on vaccination, type of vaccine, what are the indications and contra-indications for the vaccine, but also guide them. If they test positive, we help them on the need for a home-quarantine and we assist them to reach the appropriate nearest hospital where Covid treatment is available,” he said.


Price advantage in health insurance for corporates

Dr Prakash saidcorporates who are facilitating vaccines for their employees can expect better health insurance rates.

“Those companies which are vaccinating their employees will definitely get a price advantage because vaccine can prevent someone from contacting the disease.

“More than that, it is believed and reported in different literature that vaccine can minimize the morbidity and mortality of the individual is infected with the virus. So naturally, on the health front and the financial front we feel that corporates when they promote vaccine drive, they will definitely get a price advantage,” he added.

However, the price advantage is likely to be limited as the pandemic has affected Star Health’s profitability.

Despite incurring a loss this financial year, the health insurer has not raised premium rates.

According to the public disclosures listed on its website, Star Health incurred a loss of Rs 128 crore upto the quarter ended Dec 20.  “Although the cost of the pandemic is not factored in the premium, we are continuing our coverage without any increase in rates despite experiencing a loss this financial year. These are tough and challenging times and, so, as a dominant insurance player, Star Health has not revised the premiums during FY21.”

The company also covers costs related to telemedicine services. “We do pay a limited amount which can take care of the cost of home quarantine – paracetamol, masks, sanitizers, pulse oximeters, immune boosters which are a part of the kit. We are promoting hospitals to come forward with the home quarantine facilities and are also helping our customers through telemedicine services offering free of cost.”

On the shortage of hospital beds that India’s facing, Dr Prakash makes a very strong argument for home quarantine, which the standalone health insurer is facilitating through its telemedicine facilities.

“The disease comes and goes in 80 percent of people; if an unnecessary CT scan or blood test is done, then it may push the patient for some unwarranted treatments and unrequired hospitalisations. Individuals should not develop post Covid sequelae. This will not only impact the healthcare financial burden but it will also not allow deserving patients to occupy the bed. There are a lot of lives that have to be saved.”

(Deepa Nair is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in finance and international affairs.)

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