I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic, famously said teenage activist Greta Thunberg about humanity’s greatest challenge at hand: the climate emergency unfolding right before our eyes. As I write this, the Air Quality Index in New Delhi is above 450. The 2020s will be the decade in which we will need — and probably see — decisive action on controlling greenhouse emissions and rising temperatures around the world. However, closer home, the impact of pollution, sea rise, and erratic weather on the health of Indians are expected to be felt more acutely. And hence Indians also need to be adequately insured and financially prepared to tackle these challenges.
IMPACT ON YOUR HEALTH
India is one of the countries expected to be the most severely impacted by the climate emergency. As per the National Health Portal, a combination of severe heat, extreme weather events, water and food shortage, increasing allergens, air pollution, and social problems such as forced migration would precipitate serious health complications. Various forms of pollution are also linked to health complications. As per the World Health Organisation, 4.2 million premature deaths globally are linked to ambient air pollution which causes lung cancer, respiratory infections, strokes, heart and pulmonary diseases. Health problems also precipitate debilitating financial problems. So how can one prepare for these problems that are likely to get worse with time?
KEEP TOPPING UP YOUR COVERAGE
It isn’t enough to just own coverage. Every few years, you’ll have to assess your health risks and decide if you need additional coverage. After all, healthcare inflation is steeper than regular cost inflation. A treatment that costs a few thousand rupees today may easily cost lakhs of rupees in the future. As you grow older through the 2020s, and as your health risks increase, you must expand your coverage to protect your finances better. A simple way to do this is to buy top-up or super top-up insurance plans that can provide additional insurance at low costs. You must also prepare an emergency fund to tackle any healthcare costs that won’t be covered by insurance. The 2020s are going to be an exciting time and change is expected to happen at breakneck speeds.
IN THE 2020S, YOU NEED TO BE COVERED
Health insurance is often seen as a tax-saving product. This is a folly. Sure, health insurance earns you useful tax deductions up to `50,000 under Section 80D of the Income Tax Act. You can get additional deductions up to `50,000 for buying health insurance for dependent parents. However, tax savings shouldn’t be the only reason why you buy insurance of any kind. You buy insurance to keep your finances safe against various risks and also to be able to cashlessly avail a variety of hospital treatments. In the 2020s, as your health risks exacerbate, you must have coverage for all members of your family. This should ideally be over and above employer-sponsored insurance. You could buy an individual cover, or a family floater for your family and another for your parents. You will be well-advised to have comprehensive coverage with exclusions such as coverage of pre-and post-hospitalisation, even if it means paying more.
WORRYING HEALTH INSURANCE DATA
Health insurance is one of the best ways to counter health problems and the steep costs of hospitalisation. But even in this regard, India's statistics are worrying. This week, a report published by the National Survey Office said that only 10 per cent of the poorest Indians had health insurance. Shockingly, the levels of coverage don't improve with income. The report says that of the 20 per cent of the richest Indians surveyed, a whopping 67 per cent urban Indians and 78 per cent rural Indians also didn’t have coverage. While the Ayushman Bharat scheme helps in covering the poorest, a vast majority of Indians have no coverage and are therefore at severe financial risk. For them, a hospitalisation could easily lead to depletion of their life savings, accumulation of high-cost debt, and falling behind on life goals such as their child's education or raise a retirement corpus. This trend is reflected in many insurance advertisements, where people postpone buying insurance because nothing can go wrong. But a lot can and does go wrong.