Obligation of IRDAI to ensure persons with disability not unduly prejudiced: HC

Taking note of claims of “high” health insurance premium and loading charges for the specially-abled, the Delhi High Court has said it is the obligation of the sector regulator IRDAI to ensure that such people are not “unduly prejudiced”.

Justice Prathiba M Singh, dealing with a petition for health insurance coverage by a person suffering from Tetraplegia, said the “principle of reasonable accommodation” mandates that such persons are provided additional support by the society and the State to enable them to lead a life of equal worth and dignity, and that right to life includes the right to avail healthcare, including medical insurance.

Following several judicial orders, various general and health insurance companies, including four government insurance companies, have launched products for persons with disabilities, the court noted.

The launched products, Justice Singh said, “may not be the most ideal” for persons with disabilities, but this would be the “first step in the process of achieving equality” for them, which is the solemn intent of legislations, including the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act.

The court further stated that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) unequivocally recognises the rights of persons with disabilities to lead a dignified life and to be treated in a non-discriminatory manner, which is also inherently recognised in the Constitution of India.

“Despite these international conventions and statutes which have been enacted recognising the rights of PwDs, actual equality on the ground remains elusive though there is positive effort in the right direction. It is also well established that the Right to Life includes the right to avail healthcare, including medical insurance,” the court observed in an order released on August 25.

The court said it has not considered the merits and reasonableness of each and every product launched by the insurance providers for persons with disabilities and the same is left open for consideration by any appropriate forum if any grievance is raised there by an aggrieved person.

“The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) being the sector regulator would also have an obligation to ensure that PwDs are not unduly prejudiced and give suitable directions to insurance companies after reviewing the products launched,” said the court.

“If any person insured is having a grievance on the amount of premium being charged, remedies in accordance with law are available to them. The petitioner is given liberty to approach the authority concerned if he so desires,” the court stated.

The petitioner, an investment professional confined to a wheelchair due to Tetraplegia and paralysis below his chest, had approached the court in 2019 after two insurance companies refused to issue any health insurance policy to him.

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In its order, the court noted that the petitioner has now availed a health insurance policy.

In March, the court had asked the IRDAI to call for proposed policies from insurance companies for persons suffering from disabilities and expeditiously approve the same after examination.

It had also last year directed the regulator to call a meeting of all insurance companies to design products for persons with disabilities.

The court had earlier stated that insurance products would have to be designed to enable persons with disabilities to obtain health insurance coverage and they cannot be discriminated against.

It had also said that the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities prohibited discrimination against persons with disabilities in the provision of health insurance and that in the present case, the rejection of the petitioner’s proposal for health insurance cover by the companies with cryptic rejection letters was disconcerting.

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