The Ayurvedic system of medicine, uniquely Indian, is meted out a 'step-motherly' treatment by health insurance companies in its land of origin, regret its practitioners.
"With medical expenses growing day-by-day, health insurance has become a necessity. But as far as Ayurveda is concerned, the reimbursement of medical bills by insurance companies is not at all encouraging," said Dr Krishna Kumar, managing director of the Coimbatore Ayurveda Trust, one of the leading Ayurvedic treatment centres in the country and situated in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Many insurance companies do not cover Ayurveda and other non-allopathic streams of treatment and a few which provide it keep an upper limit for the amount to be reimbursed.
Royal Sundaram Insurance, for instance, is one among the many companies whose health insurance policy does not cover Ayurvedic treatment. New India Assurance provides only 20 per cent of the insured amount if it is Ayurveda while Star Health provides 25 per cent.
Dr C Madhusoodanan, head of Ayurveda wing of city-based Kumaran Hospital, said hospitals providing this system of treatment are not included in the list of institutions offering cashless treatment facility for mediclaim card holders.
Of the around 150 patients of Coimbatore Ayurveda Trust who had applied for medical reimbursement last year, only one or two persons got the bills cleared, that too because they had a "personal rapport" with the insurance officials, said Kumar.
"At the same time, the medical bills of many foreigners who received treatment here were reimbursed by insurance companies in their respective countries," he added.
In many cases, claims are returned saying the treatment was not necessary for the particular ailment, said Madhusoodanan.
Insurance company officials said they faced problems in verifying whether the treatment given was for ''wellness'' or ''illness'' and whether the treatment and medicines were needed for the particular ailment.
With proliferation of spas providing Ayurvedic oil massages and steam bath, verifying claims has become difficult, they said.
Madhusoodanan agreed verifying wellness and illness treatment was a hurdle. "In that case, the companies should include Ayurvedic doctors in their panel of physicians to verify the documents," he suggested.
Kumar wants a modification in the policy decision of the insurance companies in favour of Ayurveda. "They should recognise Ayurveda as an effective system of treatment like allopathy and prescribe a format to submit the relevant documents for claim so as to make the procedure easy for the patients".
"Now the patients are not assured of reimbursement and it is just a matter of chance if the bills get cleared. This situation should change to promote this ancient Indian system," he said, adding this would also help Ayurvedic mode of treatment streamline itself.