After recording impressive growth in the initial months of the pandemic outbreak, the growth in the health insurance segment of non-life insurers appears to be slowing as the fear of Covid subsides.
“The initial euphoria for health products during the Covid period is dying down now because that was knee-jerk reaction to buy insurance immediately looking at the hospital cost for Covid,” said Gurdeep Singh Batra, head – retail underwriting, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance.
Within health insurance, it was the retail segment that recorded impressive growth. In the April-November period of financial year 2020-21 (FY21), general insurers recorded a 20 per cent growth in retail over the past year, and standalone health insurers saw 44.25 per cent growth, with the industry growing over 30 per cent.
However, the government health and foreign medical portfolios have seen massive contraction. As a result, the health segment of the general insurance industry has grown just 13 per cent, with general insurers seeing eight per cent growth and standalone insurers 28 per cent growth.
“Despite Covid, we have not seen adequate growth in the health insurance segment. This could possibly be because many people lost their employment, hence, they may not have enough income sources to pay insurance premiums,” said MN Sarma, secretary general, General Insurance Council.
“There was a substantial growth in the segment at the onset of Covid, largely driven by fear. As time went by, the fear diminished. People bought covers that were entry-level products and not comprehensive health insurance products,” said Bhabatosh Mishra, director — claims, underwriting, and product, Max Bupa Health Insurance.
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (Irdai) had introduced two Covid specific products in the market — Corona Kavach and Corona Rakshak — that saw huge acceptance among the consumers as these products had lower premiums.
“The standardised Corona Kavach policy added to the growth as it was aimed for specific need of Covid treatment. There was a huge demand for this product which drove the growth of health products,” Batra said.
Till September 2020, 2.3 million Covid-specific policies were issued, covering 11 million lives, with a sum insured of close to Rs 13 trillion. Senior citizens accounted for about 7 per cent of lives covered under Corona Kavach policy and four per cent of lives covered under Corona Rakshak and other such products. But the growth of these products has also slowed, experts said.
Insurers are hopeful that awareness around health insurance will grow, driving growth in the segment.
“I think there will be a new normal now. Part of those consumers who bought covers due to fear will become aware and continue, but not all of them. Time will tell how much of fear gets translated into awareness in the true sense,” Mishra added.
There is an expectation that based on the claim experience of insurers, premiums may rise. As of January 4, insurance companies have received about 780,000 Covid claims worth $1.6 billion of which around 600,000 claims worth $795 million have been settled.
The ticket size of claims has remained at Rs 1.52 lakh over the past four months. December saw monthly additions of around 140,000 claims ($312 million) compared to about 130,000 claims ($249 million) in November.
“The growth in health insurance segment should continue next year too because the pandemic has not yet ended and we need to see the efficacy of the vaccine and it shall take some time before most of the people are vaccinated”, said Batra.
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