Forum: Patients with mental illnesses face insurance obstacles

Posed photo of a person with depression.
Posed photo of a person with depression.PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: ST FILE

I am heartened to see President Halimah Yacob speak up on the stigma faced by those with mental health problems (With employer's support, she fought bipolar disorder, Oct 4)

Mental illnesses co-exist with many medical problems.

As a gastroenterologist, I have diagnosed many cases of vomiting caused by underlying eating disorders, such as cyclical vomiting and anorexia nervosa.

In order to help such patients return to productive life, either in school or at work, we must treat both the medical and psychological sides of the problem.

For instance, without appropriate psychiatric help, a patient with cyclical vomiting will keep being admitted for vomiting, resulting in greater use of healthcare resources.

Unfortunately, three issues remain.

First, many patients are afraid to have the label of having seen a psychiatrist, or being labelled with a psychiatric condition.

Second, having a psychiatric diagnosis may jeopardise their insurability in future when they apply for life insurance or medical insurance.

Lastly, many Integrated Shield plans do not reimburse the fees for psychiatric consultation and treatment, even if mental health issues are not pre-existing illnesses when the patients sign up for these insurance plans.

Accepting that mental illnesses are real and treatable is a great first step. But insurers must also move in the same direction. Insurers should not discriminate against patients with underlying mental illnesses when they apply for a new insurance policy. And it is time insurers reimburse patients with psychiatric problems appropriately.

Multi-pronged approaches are needed to get patients with psychiatric illnesses back to their normal productive lives.

Desmond Wai (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2019, with the headline 'Patients with mental illnesses face insurance obstacles'. Print Edition | Subscribe