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What New Delhi's smog can do to your Health Insurance

BusinessToday.in     December 22, 2017

If you are under the impression that the smog in New Delhi will only affect those in the city, you are sadly mistaken. The smog crisis shouldn't be a concern only for those residing in the city, but should be worrying to just about everyone on this planet.

The current levels of pollution in Delhi are only the beginning of what's to come is appropriate and adequate measures are not taken to rectify the situation. Beijing is also considered to be one of the most polluted cities in the world, and right now, New Delhi has managed to exceed it.

Unfortunately, these effects will be felt for miles around as the wind carries the pollutants to neighbouring areas. The effects on health and mortality of individuals will be felt for decades. Furthermore, the smog could also jack up the premiums on health insurance considering the risks the insurance companies will have to bear. So, does the New Delhi Smog have you worried about your health? Here's what you need to know.

What exactly is smog? And why is it so harmful?

"Smog" is a combination of smoke and fog, a term coined by Dr. Henry Antoine Des Voeux in 1905. The smoke emitted from coal fires, power-producing plants, vehicles, crop burning and so on, combined with natural fog creates a deadly mix that can cause some serious health issues. Smog can also be caused naturally, by an erupting volcano for instance, but this doesn't pose much of a concern to us.

Smog has detrimental effects on the health of young children, aged seniors, and those with lung or heart conditions. However, severe smog can affect just about anyone.

What's happening in New Delhi?

A number of factors have contributed to the hazardous air quality in the city. It is important to note that much of Delhi's pollution comes from outside the city.
1. Farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh continue to burn the farm stubble despite it being banned, stating that they have no other alternative.
2. Large-scale constructions have contributed to more dust in the air, industrial pollution has been on the rise, and garbage dumps have created a toxic environment.
3. And lastly, the increase in traffic every year has edged pollution levels much higher.
4. Adding an extra buzz to this perilous cocktail, Diwali crackers take it to a whole new level of deadly.

How do we track the pollution levels?

The air quality is tracked through two indexes, PM 2.5 and PM 10. PM stands for Particulate Matter which is a mixture of solids and liquid droplets floating in the air. While some particles originate from a specific source, there are others that require complicated chemical reactions in the atmosphere.

Fine particles (PM 2.5) are 2.5 micrometres in diameter or smaller that come from forest fires, crop burning, motor vehicles, power plants, wood fires and certain industrial processes.

Coarse dust particles (PM 10) are 2.5 to 10 micrometres in diameter that come from grinding or crushing operations and dust stirred up by vehicles on roads.

According to the air quality index, a good numerical value is 0 to 50, where the air quality poses little or no risk to health. Between 51 and 100, the air quality is still acceptable, however a small number of people would be affected. When pollution levels rise to 100 and 151, people who are sensitive to pollution will face health problems. When levels cross 151 to 200, there is a problem. Everyone starts to feel the effects, while for the sensitive ones, it becomes way worse. Between 201 and 300, emergency conditions should be declared where the entire population will face the brunt of it. When air quality exceeds 301 to 500, this is a hazardous crisis and it poses dangerous levels of health risks.

On 30th October 2017, the air quality index in New Delhi stood at 316. Through the course of the first week of November, locals had measured PM 10 levels at 999, the highest that the machine can record. As of 14th November 2017, air quality levels around Delhi ranged from around 442 to 506 for PM 10, and 435 to 502 for PM 2.5.

How will your health be affected?

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what health problems are in store for those living amid the smog. The risk of heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, respiratory diseases and dementia are much higher. People with tuberculosis, asthma and wheezing may face more discomfort and be at higher risk. The people most at risk are the elderly and young children, along with those who have pre-existing illnesses.

Unfortunately, much of the major effects of smog on your health won't be immediate, but it will affect you in the long run. Due to reduced working capacity of the lungs, this poses health problems for the rest of the body as well. Overall, the lifespan of individuals can also be greatly reduced.

Apart from this, the likelihood of accidents is much higher due to compromised visibility on the roads. This could lead to personal injuries, own vehicle damage and third party liabilities. As a result, you might be forced to make a claim on your car insurance policy which means you will lose out on your no-claim bonus. It could also affect future premiums as driving on roads in Delhi poses a greater risk.

How is health insurance affected by the Great Smog of Delhi?

When insurance companies offer a health insurance policy, they assess the risk they have to bear. The higher the risk you pose, the higher your premium will be. For instance, if you smoke, the chances of you being hospitalised for treatment of cancer, lung disease or heart disease is much higher. Therefore, companies will automatically charge you a higher premium.

Premiums also vary between men and women, as women tend to have a longer lifespan. For this reason, women are granted lower premiums because, in the long run, women end up paying more considering they might live much longer.

For those who have pre-existing illnesses, the insurer knows that you're more likely to make a claim, therefore, they might charge you more in premiums.

Due to the rise in health insurance claims related to the smog, insurance companies might be compelled to increase premium rates across the board.

This might become applicable not just in New Delhi, but in the surrounding areas as well. The reason for this is that the effects of the smog are not contained to one city, but will spread around to neighboring places.

On an individual basis, making a claim against your insurance policy will result in the loss of your no-claim bonus and the possibility of a higher premium.

Those who already suffer from respiratory problems will have it a lot worse considering the ill effects of the smog on their health. Health Insurance companies already charge a higher premium to provide cover for such people, and now the chances of an even higher premium are more likely.

A few things you can do

Given the severity of the pollution in New Delhi, there are a few steps every individual can take to make it better, and not just leave it up to the authorities to fix the situation.
1. Avoid burning anything from wood to garbage.
2. Avoid bursting crackers. It's not about religion or culture here, it's about life and death.
3. Eat healthy and exercise within your house. Keep your immune system strong.
4. Avoid venturing out as much as you can till the smog clears up.
5. Plant more trees around you. Include plants in your home.
6. Get an air purifier.
7. Cut down the use of private vehicles and make an effort to use public transport.
8. Spread awareness about the ill effects of smog and help people understand what they can do.

As winter sets in, New Delhi is not a safe place to live and breathe in. There are many measures that can be taken by both citizens and the government to help reduce the intensity of the crisis. As a last resort, you could always consider a home loan to help you get out of New Delhi!

 


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