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Diabetics, here's something to cheer about
Bridget S Leena, Outlook Money | December 21, 2006
The World Health Organisation estimates there are 35 million diabetics in India today and the number would swell to 52 million by 2010. Of these, 95 per cent are Type II diabetics - their bodies do not produce enough insulin. Type I diabetics do not produce any. They face a far more serious problem and insurers don't give them cover. That used to be the case with Type II patients, too, but not any more.
ICICI Prudential Life Insurance and Bajaj Allianz General Insurance are providing diabetes covers now. The rest do not cover diabetes if it is a 'pre-existing' disease. However, you can get mediclaim cover if the disease develops after the policyholder has had the insurance for three years continuously. Also, India's only pure health insurer, Star Health Insurance, is in the process of submitting its proposed diabetes policy for Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority approval.
Type II diabetes can cause heart attacks, retinopathy (which can cause decreased vision and blindness), nephropathy (damage to or disease of the kidney) and gangrene (loss of tissues due to lack of blood supply, particularly in fingers and toes). ICICI Diabetes Care covers six critical illnesses - heart attack, coronary artery bypass surgery, kidney failure, stroke, cancer and major organ transplant. Bajaj Allianz covers all the diseases associated with diabetes under its critical illness policy.
Before giving diabetes cover, Bajaj Allianz puts a patient through a medical examination and charges extra over the premium for the critical illness policy. In terms of premiums, ICICI Prudential's policy is more expensive, but pushes the policyholder to control the disease. It includes three free blood sugar checks a year at its diabetes centres and lowers the annual premium by 20 per cent if the disease is under control. The policy is about three times more expensive than mediclaim.
So, should diabetics buy them? A coronary bypass or kidney failure surgery costs over Rs 100,000, laser treatment for retinopathy about Rs 6,000, and amputation about Rs 50,000. Just medication would set you back by Rs 5,000-10,000 a year, says V Mohan, chairman and chief diabetologist, Dr Mohan's Diabetes Specialties.
Experts say chances of getting a diabetes related disease, except for heart attacks, are lower as they develop slowly. If the risk is high, says Mohan, no insurer will want to cover it.
What then should, say, a 40-year-old diabetic do? Mohan says it would depend on how he manages his diet and physical activity, and how long he has had the problem. With a near sugar-free diet, regular walks and sugar level checks, he can cut the risk of diabetes-related ailments. But chances of getting such a disease go up with age.
H. Srinivasan, a 77-year-old doctor, has had diabetes for 15 years. But he has kept sugar down by controlling his diet and taking regular exercise. He, probably, does not need a diabetes cover. But can everyone be as disciplined?