June 14, 2024

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Mitigating pollution with health insurance policy

4 min read

A cloud of toxic air engulfed entire north India recently with the Air Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi NCR breaching the 500 mark, which is categorised as severe.

Masks on faces, which a common sight during COVID-19, have made a comeback in public spaces. The situation is so grim that it even impacted the Cricket World Cup.

On one hand, England players had to use inhalers because of high levels of pollution while the Bangladesh team cancelled a training session when they visited Delhi for a match.

This year, the situation got pretty severe even before Diwali festivities began. The tragedy was it had become a recurring problem. And, prolonged exposure to high levels of air pollution leads to severe health problems. This makes health insurance a non-negotiable safety shield during these times.

Health implications

Rising pollution brings along severe health consequences. According to a recent study, exposure to polluted air has direct correlation to type-2 diabetes. The study, conducted over seven years among 12,000 men and women in Delhi and Chennai, found breathing air with high levels of PM2.5 particles results in high blood sugar levels and increased type 2 diabetes incidence.

According to medical experts, breathing air with high levels of pollutants is similar to smoking 25-30 cigarettes a day. The short-term implications include eye irritation, itchy throat, and respiratory issues like loss of breath. However, prolonged exposure can also lead to a raised risk of lung cancer and chronic heart disease.

It also reduces life expectancy by taking several years off a person’s life.

Another important factor is how pollution hampers the active part of lifestyle. Doctors advise people to stay indoors and avoid physical activity, especially exercise, during periods of high levels of air pollution. While this helps us avoid short-term health risks, it also leads to a sedentary lifestyle which may have long-term health implications. This is especially so for people who may already be going through health complications like diabetes, which require regular physical activity to keep it under check.

While there’s little we can do about pollution right now, we do have control over protecting ourselves financially from the higher risk of chronic illnesses it brings. The reassuring part is health insurance offers extensive coverage for such health troubles. Here’s how to safeguard yourself with the right coverage:

Coverage for PEDs:

Those with diabetes can take comfort in specialised health insurance plans that provide coverage for pre-existing diabetes right from day one. In fact, those suffering from chronic diabetes can also opt for health insurance plans that provide extensive coverage. These are the individuals with high blood sugar levels who require insulin to keep diabetes under check. The extensive coverage includes not only emergency assistance but also regular health check-ups and monitoring. This empowers policyholders and equips them with the right information to better manage their health.

OPD coverage

Health insurance generally covers hospitalisation expenses which may be caused due to ailments arising out of high levels of pollution. However, if one lives in a city that sees regular bouts of toxic air, it is advisable to get OPD coverage as well.

That is because air pollution can lead to some short-term health complications which may not need hospitalisation, but may need medical attention including doctor consultations and medical tests. Having OPD coverage spares you from out-of- pocket expenses owing to eye problems, cold and cough, respiratory problems, skin allergies, etc.

Critical illness cover

It is also a good idea to get a Critical Illness cover which gives the policyholder a lump sum amount if they are diagnosed with any listed critical illness like cancer or heart disease. The hospitalisation bill can shoot to ₹40-50 lakh in this case. After all, the connection between pollution and such ailments is well-established. This coverage can be used to cover the high cost of medical treatment which is common with such ailments, and also to replace any loss of income arising out of that.

High sum insured

The importance of an adequate sum insured cannot be stressed upon enough, especially in metro cities. Sum insured of at least ₹50 lakh-₹1 crore is important for those exposed to high levels of pollution consistently.

Also, a cover of ₹1 core for two adults in a metro city is quite affordable at about ₹1,300 monthly premium. This helps one afford critical medical care, which is crucial for chronic ailments aggravated by pollution like lung cancer, the cost of which can run significantly high.

Medical experts say breathing air with high levels of pollutants is similar to smoking 25-30 cigarettes a day, raising the risk of lung cancer and heart disease.

(The author is Business Head, Health Insurance, Policybazaar.com)


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