More than life insurance, Indians seek health insurance. With high-visibility marketing, the confluence of demand and supply is paying off. This is an established and steadily upward trend in sale of health insurance in the last two decades and more.

But, to quote a recent survey by NITI Aayog, only 18% of individuals in urban areas and 14% in rural areas have any form of health insurance coverage. Better than before, but, as school reports would say, ‘can do better’.

Health insurance is not a one-size-fits-all. The market is clearly segmented as mass insurance under social welfare schemes of governments, employer provided group insurance, and the individual health insurance that you and I buy. The first two are free or close to free to the beneficiaries. And within each there is a range of covers, costs, caveats….

Two reasons come to mind why more individuals aren’t buying health insurance. I am leaving out a significant chunk who aren’t eligible for the below poverty line free mass insurance, but cannot afford commercial insurance premium.

Those that can, but don’t, are either confused by what’s on offer and what suits them, or are victims of the ‘broken promises’ syndrome that dogs most insurance, especially this variety. A hospitalisation policy does not cover every type of hospitalisation. When it does, it does not cover the entire extent of the expenditure, pays some bills and not others, pays some bills fully and others partially and so on. Inefficient and/or uncaring and impersonal claims settlement processes amplify the syndrome.

In short, in hospitalisation insurance, what you see is not what you get. The selling process does not always add clarity because we, as customers, don’t ask the right questions or all the questions simply because we don’t know.

So, if you urgently want to buy health insurance what do you choose? An imperfect solution is to buy the standardised hospitalisation policy simply because some coverage is better than no coverage. Every company offers it by mandate and you will recognise it by the name ‘XYZ Insurance Company Arogya Sanjeevani Policy’. Please compare premium rates across companies because that will vary.

This is only the first step. Start your research and port to a better suited policy with the same company or another by the time the renewal rolls around.

(The writer is a business journalist specialising in insurance & corporate history)