Health insurance covers the cost of treatments availed while the insured person is hospitalized. It also covers the cost of medicines and other healthcare facilities while admitted to the hospital. Here we have covered everything you need to know about health insurance in India. Let’s begin with the following:
What Is Health Insurance?
Health Insurance like any other form of insurance provides financial support in the time of need. Health insurance covers the cost of medical expenses incurred due to hospitalization or treatment for the insured.
Insured is the person who is covered under the Policy. A person may buy policy for his/her family in which case all family members are insured. After an illness, the insured will either pay the cost of treatment from his pocket and then file a health insurance claim or avail a cashless claim where the insurance company will pay the cost of treatment directly to the hospital. Through health insurance, one can get a cover for the following during hospitalization:
- Cost of hiring an Ambulance
- Cost of Hospitalization stay
- Surgeon charges and operation theatre charges in case of surgery
- Medical Tests
- Doctor Visits
Importance of Health Insurance in India
The climate in India varies according to its geographical regions. Our nation experiences varied forms of temperatures and weather conditions simultaneously. Changing climate can lead to health issues among citizens.
There could be a number of other factors which affect a healthy person leading to poor health. Mostly, health issues occur without intimation. At such times, people are not usually prepared to bear the high cost of treatments or hospitalization. This is where health insurance comes into the picture. It will lend a financial cover in case a medical emergency arises.
It is often believed that health insurance plans should be bought by people in the later stages of their lives as they are likely to fall ill frequently due to old age. Contrary to this belief, health insurance plans should be bought even for children. This is to avoid any delay in availing medical treatment in the time of need.
Health insurance proves to be helpful because of the following:
Expensive Medical Treatments
Cost of medical treatments is increasing with each passing day. A few days of hospitalization easily costs thousands of rupees in India. In such case, it is hard to save money in advance for availing medical treatments. It becomes difficult to keep up with increasing medical bills. As a result some people tend to avoid taking full treatment for the medical condition they are suffering from. This could prove to be dangerous. Health insurance can help you to get out of a tough spot when you don’t have enough funds to avail medical treatment.
Life has always been unpredictable and with increasing speeds at which vehicles run, one cannot be 100% sure that an accident may not happen. Be it road accidents or something as simple as a falling tree, being prepared for such perils will always be helpful. As compared to saving a sum of money for such events, buying health insurance offers more benefits.
People nowadays have busy schedules and hectic lifestyles. This is having an adverse effect on their health leading to issues like high blood pressure, stress, hypertension, etc. Health insurance provides a cover for these conditions as well. Thus, it is better to avail a financial cover through health insurance instead of spending the entire amount from the pocket.
Availability of Healthcare
India being a developing country, quality medical facilities are not easily available nationwide. In such situations, one can avail treatment from hospitals which provide advanced healthcare in another part of the country. This can be possible without worrying about the number of medical bills and cost of medicines.
Apart from enabling people to avail quality healthcare, health insurance plans also offer tax benefits. Under section 80D of the Income Tax Act, the benefit of up to Rs. 25000 can be obtained per year on a plan. Also, if a health insurance plan is bought for parents, one can get a rebate of Rs 15000-20000. If parents are senior citizens, you can get a rebate of up to Rs. 30000 on health insurance policies.
What Are the Types of Health Insurance?
A health insurance plan can be bought for an individual or for the whole family. In family covers, the sum insured can be available in full to each insured in the family or the sum insured may be shared on family floater basis. A health insurance policy can be of the following types depending upon the plan selected by the policyholder:
Mediclaim or Comprehensive Health Insurance Plans
These plans cover the cost of treatment during hospitalization of any of the insured persons in the policy. This is a comprehensive plan as it covers all kinds of hospitalizations (other than a small number excluded diseases as per the policy) and the full hospitalization bill up to the sum insured.
Critical Illness Plans
A critical illness plan offers to pay a lump sum amount if the insured person is diagnosed for predefined critical illnesses. These plans are beneficial in cases where the cost of treating an illness is significantly higher as compared to other health issues. Specific illnesses like cancer, stroke, heart attack can be covered under this plan.
Daily Cash Benefit Plans
Through this plan the insured will be paid the cost of treatment on daily basis. The amount paid will be as per the terms and conditions of the health insurance plan. The amount paid will be fixed irrespective of the actual daily expenditure.
Personal Accident Insurance
This insurance provides financial support to the next of kin in case the insured dies in an accident. This insurance is also helpful if the insured person suffers temporary or permanent disability due to an accident.
Health Insurance Plans for Senior Citizens
As the name suggests, these plans are specifically designed to cover the cost of medical treatments given to elderly people. The health issues concerning senior citizens require specific treatment. With health insurance, a senior citizen can avail medical facilities seamlessly.
Family Floater Plans
As the name suggests, this is a consolidated plan which covers the whole family. Thus, members of a family need not buy separate health insurance plans.
Top-up and Super Top-up Plans
Top-up and Super top-up plans are useful when your health insurance cover gets exhausted. A health insurance policy has a threshold on the sum assured to be paid in one policy year. A top-up plan will pay the remaining amount after the threshold of your health insurance plan is met. A super top-up plan works in a similar manner but irrespective of the threshold or number of claims.
Disease specific plans
These plans cover specific diseases for example, Cancer. The difference between a Critical Illness Cover and a Disease Specific plan is that the former type provides insurance only in the later stages of an illness where as a Disease Specific plan provides financial help from the onset of a disease.
How Does Health Insurance Work?
A health insurance policy is an annual contract between an insurance company and the insured person. According to this plan, the insurance company will bear the cost of medical treatments availed by the policyholder. Health insurance plans need to be renewed on annual basis similar to vehicle insurance.
It is not always necessary that a claim is made against the policy. In such cases, the insurer grants an increase in the sum insured or a discount on the premium of the health insurance policy. This depends on the insurance company. This discount is called a No Claim Bonus. It is cumulative in nature and increases in percentage by each consecutive claim-free year.
Factors Affecting the Cost of a Health Insurance Policy
Each policyholder is of a different type and dwells in a different condition. Thus, the cost of health insurance varies from person to person. However, to get a general idea about the factors that affect health insurance premium, let’s take a look at the following.
An individual may be suffering from certain medical conditions at the time of applying for the policy. These, if covered under health insurance, will lead to a higher premium. This happens because in this case the likelihood of an insured person to avail medical treatment increases.
A pre-existing medical condition cannot be covered under a health insurance policy. It takes a couple of years before you can file a claim for the cost of treatment of a pre-existing condition. The waiting period depends on the terms and conditions of the insurance company. It is a good idea to inquire about the same before opting for health insurance from a certain insurer.
Habits and Lifestyle
Leading a healthy lifestyle decreases the cost of health insurance plans. On the other hand, habits like smoking, consuming alcohol or chewing tobacco can lead to higher health insurance premium.
An elderly person has higher chances of falling ill as compared to a young individual who leads a healthy lifestyle. Thus, the cost of health insurance policy depends upon the age of an individual.
As mentioned earlier, Indian regions differ in climatic conditions. This could lead to health issues as some regions have extremely cold climatic conditions, while others experience extreme rainfall or even heat waves . Also, poor health conditions are a cause of many illnesses in the country. Thus, the cost of health insurance policy varies upon the location of residence of an individual.
Key Benefits of Health Insurance
Buying health insurance could reduce the yearly cost of medical expenses to a great extent. This is possible due to a wide coverage offered by these insurance plans. Here are the key advantages of buying a health insurance policy:
Coverage for Hospitalization
Your health insurance will pay for the cost of hospitalization due to various illnesses, accident or other medical conditions. A minimum of 24 hours of hospitalization is required in order to raise a claim against your health insurance policy.
Pre and Post Hospitalization
A medical treatment could continue before or after hospitalization. Health insurance covers this cost as well. Usually, the cost of medical treatment covered is 30 days before and 90 days after hospitalization.
Charges for Ambulance
Calling an ambulance proves to be helpful in case of medical emergencies. These vehicles come equipped with life-saving devices. The treatment could begin as soon as the patient is on board in an ambulance. Health insurance covers the charges of hiring an ambulance.
Some insurers provide the cost of treatment availed at home instead of the hospital. This can be the case where a patient is willing to spend time with the loved ones in the comfort of their homes instead of a peculiar environment of the hospital. It is a good idea to confirm if this is covered under your health insurance plan by contacting your insurer.
It is a good practice to undergo regular health checkups. This helps in monitoring the current health condition of a person. Also, regular check-ups help in detecting an illness in its early stages making it easy to treat it in time. The cost of these check-ups is covered by some insurers under their insurance plans.
How to Buy Health Insurance?
Traditionally, health insurance could be bought only via offline means. However, since the advent of the internet and increased connectivity, it is possible to buy the policy online as well. Nowadays, insurers are keen on directly serving their consumers. They have dedicated websites from where a person willing to get insurance can compare, understand and buy a health insurance plan directly from the insurer without the need for intermediaries or brokers.
If you want to avail insurance offline, you need to personally visit the insurance intermediaries or brokers. They are licensed and governed by Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI). A health insurance broker will only assist a person in comparing various products and buying a suitable plan. An insurance broker is licensed to sell health insurance plans from more than one insurance company. Insurance intermediaries will assist the policyholder through the complete cycle of health insurance i.e. from buying a suitable plan to filing a claim against the policy.
Things to Consider Before Buying Health Insurance
Before buying a health insurance plan, it is advised to consider your requirements. Along with this, consider understanding the following with respect to your health insurance company:
Understand the claim process of the company before buying a health insurance policy. A simple claim process which does not involve a lot of hassle or elaborate documentation is preferable. Get in touch with the help center of your insurer in case the claim process is not clearly mentioned.
Most of the claims in health insurance are cashless. Which means you just have to pay a small part of the claim amount and your insurer will directly pay the bills to the service providers like hospitals, ambulance agencies, pharmacists, etc. To avail a cashless claim facility, you need to take medical treatment only from the hospitals which are a part of your insurer’s network. Here, selecting an insurer with a high number of network hospitals is advisable.
No-cost Medical Check-up
Some insurers offer free health check-ups. This helps in monitoring your health on regular basis. Look for an insurer who offers this facility.
Bonus sum insured
This is a cumulative bonus given to a policyholder if no claim is raised in an active policy period and if the policy is regularly renewed. It is given in the form of a discount on the health insurance premium or added to the amount of sum insured offered on the plan. Checking this facility before buying the plan is a good idea.
Certain conditions like pre-existing diseases and maternity benefits are covered after waiting for a fixed period of time. The waiting period differs from insurer to insure but usually it is of 2 to 3 years.
Most of the health insurance plans do not cover maternity expenses. However, if you are willing to start a family it is a good idea to cover pregnancy under health insurance plan. Some insurers have a waiting period for covering this cost. Check what your insurer offers.
A health insurance plan can have a sub-limit on the sum assured. A sub limit can be applicable on things like room rent, specific diseases, etc. It can be in the form of percentage or a fixed amount. For example – The sub-limit on room rent is Rs. 4000/day. The room you choose costs Rs. 6000/day. Here, your health insurance will cover Rs. 4000/day and you need to pay the difference i.e. Rs. 2000/day from your pocket.
What Are the Exclusions of a Health Insurance Policy?
Exclusions are conditions in which you cannot file a claim against your health insurance policy. Following exclusions are usually not covered by insurers:
Availing of any kind of dental treatments is not covered under the health insurance policy. You cannot file a claim against your policy for the cost of dental treatment.
Joint Replacements Surgeries
These surgeries are not covered under health insurance. Most of the people in their old age require to undergo these operations. However, this it is an exclusion of the health insurance policy.
Cosmetic procedures for the enhancement of beauty are not covered under health insurance. However, cosmetic surgery performed after a major accident is covered. These are mostly correction surgeries which are performed to reduce disfigurements.
The cost of medical treatment for injuries arising from a suicide attempt is not covered in these plans.
The cost of undergoing therapeutic treatments like naturopathy, acupressure, magnetic therapy, or such alternative treatments is not covered.
Babies are not covered usually up to the first 90 days of their birth.
Exclusions in the form of waiting period
When you buy a health insurance plan, you cannot file a claim for hernia, osteoporosis, and Ear, Nose, Throat (ENT) related disorders, certain pre existing conditions, maternity and specific exclusions as per the policy in the first few years.
Terms Frequently Used in Health Insurance
An agent is representative of the insurance company who assists you through various processes of health insurance. An agent can give advice about the type of policy suitable for your needs, purchase, availing coverage and the claim process.
An assignee is a person who avails the benefits of the health insurance plan. An assignee could be any of your parents, spouse or children.
A claim is a payment request raised by the policyholder to avail the promised financial cover as per the policy.
Certificate of Insurance
This is the contract between the insurance company and the person who purchases health insurance. This contract states the terms of the policy which includes coverages and exclusions as well.
A part of the claim amount to be borne by the policyholder is called co-payment. Co-payment is in the form of a percentage of the claim amount. The remaining part is paid by the insurer as per the terms and conditions of the health insurance policy.
People who are financially dependent on the policyholder are called dependents. They could be policyholder’s parents, spouse or children.
Situations/circumstances/conditions which are not covered by the insurer are called exclusions. The insured cannot raise a claim against an exclusion.
An insurer is an insurance company who is licensed by the IRDAI to provide insurance cover. An insurer is responsible for covering risks, issuing the policy document and receiving premiums.
Premium is the amount you pay for buying a health insurance policy from an insurance company.
Sum insured is the amount of money an insurer is liable to pay when a genuine claim is raised by the policyholder. It works on the principle of indemnity.
This is the duration in which the policyholder cannot raise a claim for certain predefined situations. After the end of the waiting period, a policyholder will be allowed to avail the benefits. For example, the waiting period for pre-existing conditions is usually 3 to 5 years.
This is an integral part of any insurance application. Under this, an underwriter will evaluate the application for coverage based on the information declared by the applicant.
Frequently Asked Questions
I already have Health insurance but the sum insured is low. Can I increase it?
Yes, it will be possible to increase the amount of sum insured under your health insurance plan. However, you cannot increase it during the policy term. You need to wait till the renewal of your current policy and opt for higher sum insured then.
I am covered under more than one health insurance plans, is this not allowed?
It is possible that one person is covered under multiple health insurance plans. For example, health insurance plan you bought for yourself and a plan bought by your employer. This is allowed. However, you can make a claim against only one of the plans you are covered under.
Can I make a claim against my health insurance plan if the policy lapses during my hospitalization?
If your health insurance policy was active when you got hospitalized and you had intimated your insurer, you can make a claim even if the policy expires during your stay at the hospital. However, if your policy had expired before you got hospitalized you cannot raise a claim. Thus, renewing your health insurance policy on time is very important.
Are all health insurance plans valid across India?
Most of the insurers allow their policyholders to claim for the treatment availed in any part of the country. However, you need to get in touch with your insurer to confirm this. You can check if your plan is active only in specific Indian regions while buying health insurance.
I forgot to renew my health insurance policy. Do I have to buy a new policy or I can renew the same one?
To avail all the benefits of a health insurance policy, it should be renewed in time. However, if you missed the expiry due to a valid reason you will be given a period of 15 days (grace period) to renew the same plan. The same policy cannot be renewed after the grace period. Also, you may lose any bonus accumulated on your health insurance policy.
News Related to Health Insurance :
Free Health Insurance Policy To All Citizens in Maharashtra
– May 5, 2020
The state government of Maharashtra announced that it will offer a free health insurance scheme to all people in the state. Maharashtra will be the first state to announce such a scheme in the country. This will be extended through the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Jan Arogya Yojana (MJPJAY) scheme. Citizens of Maharashtra can avail free and cashless treatment or hospitalisation. To apply for the scheme one must provide their domicile certificate and ration card. The state health minister said that the scheme was extended until now to 85% of the population, now the remaining 15% will be covered under the scheme. Employees of state government, white ration cardholders and semi-government will be eligible to apply for the scheme. He added that a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between the government and General Insurance Public Sector Association for the treatment of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 cases at private hospitals in Mumbai and Pune.
Health Insurance Scheme for COVID-19 Warriors Announced by West Bengal Government
– May 3, 2020
The state government of West Bengal has announced a health insurance policy for COVID-19 warriors including journalists with a sum insured amount of Rs.10 lakh. On the occasion of Press Freedom Day, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that the press should be respected for their contribution to the society and they are the fourth pillar of democracy and should be able to perform their duties without any fear. The health insurance scheme of Rs.10 lakh will cover frontline coronavirus warriors and journalists so that they can perform their duties fearlessly.
Insurance Regulator Directs Health Insurance Providers to Settle Claim in 2 Hours
– April 23, 2020
Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), the apex body for insurance companies in the country has directed that claims should be settled within two hours by health insurance companies. The circular said that from the time they receive the authorisation request, the hospital should receive authorisation on cashless treatment within two hours. It also said that the decision of the final discharge should be communicated to the hospital within 2 hours from the time the insurers or the third party administrator receives the final bill or any necessary needs from the network provider or hospital. The IRDA also asked health and general insurance companies that appropriate guidelines are issued to their respective third party administrators during this time of lockdown in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the country.
COVID-19: Health, Vehicle Insurance Renewal Date Extended
– April 16, 2020
Amidst the ongoing lockdown to contain the spread of the infectious COVID-19 in India, the common man is facing several hardships. The Centre, in an effort to bring some relief to Third-party health and vehicle insurance policyholders, has extended the date to renew their policies without being affected by a lapse of the insurance coverage. Insurance policies which are falling due between 25 March to 3 May 2020 have been extended to be paid by 15 May 2020. Failure to renew third-party health insurance policies on the due date get an extension of one month; however, there is no coverage during this extended period. As for the third-party motor insurance policies, there is no grace period and a penalty is charged for failure to renew it by the due date. However, with this announcement by the Finance Ministry, policyholders can get some relief to pay the renewal premium of their health or vehicle insurance till 15 May 2020.
Indian Bank Offers Up to Rs.4 Lakh Insurance Cover To Business Correspondents
– April 15, 2020
Indian Bank said it has offered insurance coverage of up to Rs.4 lakh to business correspondents which are instrumental in ensuring the availability of essential banking services especially in the rural and unbanked areas during the ongoing lockdown to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus. The public-sector bank is offering the cover under the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana. Business correspondents of banking services include those providing primary banking services such as cash withdrawals, deposits and other services especially in the remotest regions of the country. The Centre has announced a second lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the country and only essential goods and basic banking services are available currently.
Health and General Insurers Cleared by IRDAI to Market COVID-19 Health Insurance Policy
– April 3, 2020
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has cleared Acko General Insurance and 29 other insurance companies to market COVID-10 health insurance policy in India. The COVID-19 health insurance scheme will cover the hospitalisation expenses airing out of treat for the deadly Novel Coronavirus infections. The policy will offer coverage of Rs.1 lakh and Rs.5 lakh and the idea behind the new policy is to streamline a policy exclusive for the treatment of the COVID-19 infection and offer a standard insurance policy with common features. The standalone policy will be launched by the selected insurance companies but will be known as ‘Aarogya Sanjeevani Policy’. The price will be decided by those insurance companies.
COVID-19: Health Care Workers to Get Rs.50 lakh Health Insurance for 3 Months
– March 20, 2020
The Indian government has proposed to offer health insurance to health care workers to the tune of Rs.50 lakh per person. This includes paramedics, sanitation employees, doctors and ASHA workers. During a press conference, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that health insurance coverage will be provided to health workers for a period of three months. The health insurance comes into effect from 25 March 2020. The coverage will include ward boys, safai karamcharis, nurses, paramedics, ASHA workers, technicians, specialists, doctors and other health workers. They will be covered under the Special Insurance Scheme. About 22 lakh health workers are expected to benefit from this scheme.
IRDAI Asks Insurance Companies to Conduct Board Meeting Through Video Conference
– March 23, 2020
In the wake of rising Coronavirus infections in the country, the Insurance Regulatory and Authority of India (IRDAI) to conduct board meeting only through video conferencing till the end of June 2020. Also, insurers have been given 30 additional days to submit their third-quarter returns. The apex body of insurance in India has appealed to all insurers, its intermediaries and distribution channels to be more sensitive to requirements of policyholders during this trying times in the country. It also asked them to operate through telephonic or digital mode. It said that all details such as services, office working hours and the alternative arrangements for payment of premium, renewal or the claim process to be displayed on their respective website.
IRDAI Brings in Changes to the Definition of Pre-Existing Diseases
– February 12, 2020
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has recently changed the definition of pre-existing diseases in health insurance. In a circular, the IRDAI said that it has removed the modified or additional clause from the existing definition in an effort to make it more simple and customer-friendly. The IRDAI said that if some illnesses were identified within three months of purchasing the health insurance policy, then it would be considered under pre-existing diseases. However, as per the recent circular, these diseases will not be considered as pre-existing diseases.
Health Ministry Says Rs.3,520 crore Have Been Released to States in Two Year Under AM-PMJAY
– February 6, 2020
Under the Ayushman Bharat – Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY), the Health Ministry has released Rs.3,520 crore to states in the last two years. The Ministry also said that the reasons for slow use of funds were because four states were not implementing the scheme. The four states include Delhi, West Bengal, Odisha and Telangana. Also, states such as Punjab and Rajasthan joined the scheme late 2019 hence the lower utilisation of funds. Also, large states like MP, UP and Bihar are implementing the scheme for the first time and hence, the traction has been slow. AB-PMJAY is India’s flagship health insurance plan, which is also considered the biggest in the world.
Budget 2020: Ayushman Bharat Scheme, Health Sector Gets a Boost of Rs.69,000 Crore Under
– February 4, 2020
Expanding the Centre’s flagship scheme, Ayushman Bharat, Finance Minister of India allocated Rs.69,000 crore in the current Budget 2020. The scheme is considered as the World’s largest government-funded health insurance plan. Through the expansion, the scheme will witness more hospitals being set up in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities in the country under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model. Tax proceeds from the sale of medical devices will be utilised to fund government hospitals in these regions, while Rs.6,000 crore has been allocated for the PMJAY scheme.
Over 1 Lakh Community Health Officers to be Placed at Health Centres by 2022: Ayushman Bharat Scheme
– December 12, 2019
The Central government’s flagship health scheme, Ayushman Bharat, will employ 1,20,000 community health officers who will be assigned at health and wellness centres by 2022. All sub-centres, primary health centres, and urban primary health centres will be upgraded to Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs) in an effort to offer comprehensive primary health care. The plan is also to create 1,50,000 HWCs by the end of financial year 2022. The Ayushman Bharat – Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) aims to offer health insurance policy with a coverage of Rs.5 lakh per family per annum. The scheme will cover over 10 crore poor families across the country.
IRDAI Circular Allows Policyholders to Select Thier Own Health Insurance TPA
– December 11, 2019
A circular issued by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) states that policyholders need not depend on the insurance company to choose a third-party administrator (TPA) while buying health insurance. Now, the policyholder can select a TPA of their choice from the host of TPAs engaged by the insurance company. In case, the TPA is terminated by the insurer, the policyholder has the choice to choose any TPAs listed by the insurer. If the policyholder does not choose any TPAs, the insurer may choose its choice of TPA.
Proposal to Lower Sum Insured Amount on Standard Health Indemnity Insurance
– November 29, 2019
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), which is the apex body of the insurance sector in the country, has proposed to lower the sum insured amount from Rs.1 lakh to Rs.5 lakh on individual and family floater policies. Through this proposal, the public is allowed to opt a suitable health insurance cover, offering basic hospitalisation costs. The difference is the premium charged on these types of insurances. Earlier this year, the IRDAI had made it mandatory for all general insurance companies to provide a standard health indeminity insurance with a basic sum insured amount between Rs.50,000 to Rs.10 lakh.
NITI Aayog Report Proposes Mandatory Health Insurance for All
– November 18, 2019
The government think tank, NITI Aayog, in its report has proposed mandatory health insurance for all in India. It said that the current health insurance schemes in India are highly fragmented at the level of risk pools and payers. Apart from the Ayushman Bharat as well as the packages offered by the National Health Mission (NHM), the government may explore the mandatory health insurance for future risk pooling options.