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Courtesy the insurance companies, the malaise that was until recently the exclusive preserve of senior citizens has now become universal in its applicability.

I am talking about the vagaries of what you may be called upon to pay as renewal premium on your health insurance policy.

In case of senior citizens, every renewal has, for quite some time now, become a hurdle. Through overt, and even covert, means, insurance companies had generally been making it known to senior citizens that they are quite an unwanted risk, and the insurance companies are ‘obliging’ these worthies by offering them renewal of their policies. If, for any reason, the senior citizen has missed out on the renewal date and the policy has lapsed, the hurdle becomes a nightmare. In any case, if you thought your renewal premium will be the same as what you paid last year since you have not made any claim this year, well, you may have to think again when your insurance company tells you your renewal premium is ‘loaded’. You have become a year older, haven’t you? That’s enough reason for a loading. And a loading of what percentage?? Anybody’s guess. You are almost completely at the mercy of the moods of the insurance company executive who ‘underwrites’ your renewal, since there is no prescribed, leave alone publicized, basis or pattern for this loading.

And now, you don’t have to be a senior citizen but a member of the sprightly brigade in the fountain of youth and yet suffer the same fate – all because, after years of paying premium, last year you ended up in a hospital and in the process, preferred a claim. In my elementary insurance education I had learnt that insurance companies ‘spread the risk’, they are indeed spreading this risk of loading the renewal premium here to the not-so-senior citizens too.

Following a claim, you would probably be prepared mentally to pay a higher renewal premium, but what you are not prepared for is the staggering hike – garbed ‘claim loading’ – that your insurance company asks you to bear. How staggering? Depends on the same mood of the same underwriter!

I have been hearing and reading lots of voices on this, suggesting various measures from meek submission – ‘thank your stars you are at least getting your renewal’ – to mighty legal action through Public Interest Litigation. The PIL lobby however piped down quite a bit when the incumbent Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, on taking oath, immediately followed it by a statement that he will not look kindly upon ‘frivolous’ PILs.

Meek submission is for the cowards willing to be cowed down by the might of the insurance companies; PIL is for the Don Quixotes. Even if your PIL is admitted by a stroke of luck – if you are that lucky, the unassailable mood of the almighty underwriter ought to have already worked in your favour – and proceeds to result in a favourable judgement, that may benefit just a few, and that too by way of an ‘interim’ relief!!

Is there no scientific way for you to have a go at this Goliath - of whimsical loading on your renewal premium - and bring him to his feet? Some workable solution between pleading for mercy and preferring litigation?? Good news is, there is.

You wanna beat them, you need to think like them.

How is it your insurance company is able to pose a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude when it comes to your health insurance renewal? ‘Cause your renewal premium is a minuscule drop in the ocean of their premium base, and not getting your renewal cheque will not impact the insurance companies top line even just a way wee bit. So, bluntly put, you are dispensable!

Insurance is a number game; the larger your number, the more significant you are to your insurance company.

Great, so how do you, the individual, manifest into a large number? Go forth and multiply?? Clone yourself into a million yourselves???

Don’t worry, I am not suggesting anything of that kind.

Am I suggesting you ride the general discontent of other renewal victims like you, be the leading lion and herd all these people together and start a movement??

Not a bad idea, except that I would believe you also have a few other mundane things like your career and home to invest your time and energy into.

If the solution is large numbers, and I am not advocating you initiate creating these large numbers, what am I saying?

Simple, the large numbers are available to you on a platform, and all you need to do is latch on to this instead of reinventing the wheel.

Have you heard of insurance brokers? Have you come across a dedicated health insurance broker? Look for one and place your renewal through this broker. This broker is already offering large enough volumes to the insurance companies that the insurance company cannot simply throw figures at this broker. Not just because this broker is more significant in premium size than you, the individual; but, and more scientifically because, for every renewal of a policy in which there had been a claim, this broker offers a dozen other renewals of claim free policies. This broker is already an aggregator of several renewals and therefore, your post claim renewal, placed through this broker, is seen by your insurance company in the backdrop of all the claim free renewals and fresh insurances that are also given by this broker to your insurance company. So, suddenly, you seem to matter. While this broker may not be able to completely do away with the loading in some cases, he will ensure that the loading, if unavoidable, is reasonable and not arbitrary, by effectively taking up your cause and case with your insurance company. So, with such a broker representing you, your renewal premium will be in the realms of predictability than astrology.

You may have some bonuses thrown in too.

This dedicated health insurance broker will have the wherewithal to offer you multitudes of services related to your health insurance – like renewal reminders, claim services like cashless coordination and so on – absolutely free! And he will even go beyond just health insurance but be your health partner too, offering several health related services – not just curative but, more importantly, preventive!

Afterall, while it is a sensible thing to always carry an adequate health insurance, to stay healthy and avoid getting into a hospital is an altogether better thing, right.

Vishwas-Medimanage-MascotI took my first Life Insurance policy when I got my first salary in 1977. I guess some of you were not born by that time. My neighbourhood LIC agent, Vishwas got it done for me.

That was the beginning of a long, strong relationship of mutual respect. Since then, Vishwas has been taking care of all my insurances – all my subsequent Life Insurance policies, the insurance of the first Lambretta scooter I bought, my first Ambassador through to my current car, my home insurance, my health insurance.. the works. Vishwas has since become an integral part of my very family, present and participating in all my family functions and so on. So much so that, my son actually calls and considers him his ‘Vishwas Uncle’. When my son got a scholarship from MIT and went to US for studies, even his travel insurance was handled for me by Vishwas.

Much water has flown under the bridge since. My son is now married and settled in Florida. I had retired voluntarily and am living pretty comfortably with my wife. I have done proper financial planning for retired life, thanks again to help and guidance from Vishwas.

And then, this happened in January this year. I will probably never forget even the date – 10th of January. My son had taken his annual vacation and with family was boarding a transatlantic flight. From the airport he had called. It was late evening in India. My wife and I spoke to him, our daughter-in-law and the grand daughter. Half an hour after the call, my wife suddenly started complaining of breathlessness and discomfort. I took her to our family doctor. All it took him was two minutes of testing her to advise me that she needs to be admitted and may require an emergency surgery. I rushed her to the hospital. She was rushed to the ICU. About 15 minutes later, the hospital informed me that she is stabilized, but would need the surgery immediately. And they politely demanded I make a deposit of Rs. 1 Lakh. Obviously I did not have that kind of liquid cash in my bank account.

I did, of course, have a Health insurance, covering both of us, also taken through Vishwas. I tried contacting my TPA. I was told their cashless approval can happen only by Monday morning. My son was on board the flight – not reachable for hours to come. I tried reaching Vishwas. He was not reachable even after several attempts. That is when I realized that it was during that period of the year when he goes on his annual pilgrimage, and does not carry his mobile. My desperation was growing into despair. Finally, I spoke to my family doctor, who spoke to doctors known to him, who in turn spoke to doctors in that hospital. And by the time the hospital agreed to prepare my wife for surgery, it was Sunday morning.

Well, the surgery was a success, and my wife has recovered well. But, even today when I think of that traumatic Saturday night, I shudder.

By about March end, Vishwas came home to collect the installments on my Life insurance policies. I told him about my experience. He was very thoughtful when he left my house that day.

The next I met him was in June. He had dropped in for some coffee, and to remind me about my Health Insurance renewal due in July. Only this time, he did not ask for the cheque!!

‘What happened to Bhabhiji was a learning for me’ he said. ‘I recommend you Renew your Health insurance policy through a good broker.’

‘What? You do not want to handle this renewal??’ I was puzzled.

‘Like I told you, Bhabhiji’s hospitalization made me realize one thing. Health insurance is not like other insurances. If your car meets with an accident, and, because I am not available you have to contact the insurance company directly and their sending a surveyor takes a day or two more, heavens will not fall. You will be upset, yes, but, it will not be a life and death situation; with health insurance, it can be a life and death situation.

The day Bhabhiji got admitted unfortunately I was not available, but even if I was available, except probably helping you with whatever liquid cash I have, I could not have done anything better. And, I cannot go around lending my cash to everyone!

In your case, your doctor was able to help you, and so, at least by the next day the surgery was performed. This will not be the case with everybody, and the patient who meets with an emergency on a Saturday night may have to wait till Monday!!

You are not just a client, but also a good friend; so, even after that incident, you continue to patronize me. I cannot expect this to happen with all my clients.

So, if I remain greedy for the commission I get on the health insurance, incidences like this can result in my losing my client – and the client’s total portfolio!!

So, from that day on, I have been advising all my clients to get their health insurance renewed through a broker. Only, I advise them to be choosy about the broker and to go to that broker who is dedicated to health insurance instead of doing all and sundry business, that broker who has contacts not alone with insurance companies and TPAs but also with hospitals and nursing homes.’

If what Vishwas said so far surprised me, what he said next made me spill my coffee.

He said with a smile on his face ‘You won’t believe this but, when my Health Insurance came up for renewal in April, I got it renewed through such a broker.’

That day when I was listening to him, I was surprised. But since then, every time I think of this, I realize it made good business sense for him to do what he is doing. Typical of Vishwas.. full of business sense!!

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