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Insurance Law goes into effect January 1

By Mahmood Saberi Senior Reporter


If you are an expatriate living in Dubai, you will have to buy health insurance coverage for your spouse and children starting this month if you have not done so already.
Many expatriates had ignored the need to provide health cover for their families because of the insurance premiums and would wait to get treatment done back in their home countries, as they felt it was much cheaper.
Things will change soon as the new Health Insurance Law will ensure every Dubai resident will have timely access to quality and affordable health services right here in the emirate.
Emiratis will receive insurance cards to replace the existing health cards that are provided for their health care services and preventive care.
Presently, only one million residents of Dubai have health cover, out of the more than 3 million people living in the emirate. Those left without any cover are the most vulnerable group and are those who need it the most — blue-collar workers on construction sites.
One other section of society that was without cover was the large number of foreign domestic workers such as housemaids, caregivers and drivers, as sponsors will now have to pay for their health insurance as well.
As per the new law, companies will provide health insurance to all their employees, and to ensure that the law is complied with, residency and work visas will not be renewed unless the worker or resident has health coverage.
Cover for family
Sponsors of employers can also provide coverage to the dependents of the workers if they wish, but if they do not, the expatriate will have to provide health insurance to the family members.
To prevent companies from hiring only single people to avoid paying for the workers’ dependents, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has decided on a minimum health benefit package that would cost Dh500-Dh700 per year.
“We do not want companies to start selecting only singles (workers without dependents) as the families are the most stable part of the social fabric in the emirate,” said Dr Haider Al Yousuf, director of Health Funding at the DHA, announcing the new health insurance law.
He said Dubai has a very large number of SMEs (small and medium enterprises). “They are fundamental to the economy and we do not wish to isolate them,” he said, explaining that the minimum benefits package would cost the company only 1.5 per cent of the monthly salary of workers.
“There will only be a minimum impact to employers and the economy,” he said.
The companies have a choice to provide more health benefits than the minimum package if they wish, but they are not allowed to cut the cost out of the employee’s salary.
“This [law] will benefit everyone. Companies will have better productivity from their employees,” said Eisa Al Maidoor, director general of DHA, noting that many workers did not seek medical help when ill due to lack of health insurance. This will ensure you have access to treatment across Dubai, he said.
Residents will have a wide choice in the market as more than 40 insurance companies have been chosen to provide coverage.
The health cover will start roll out in this month, but the process is expected to extend till 2016 when everyone in Dubai will be covered.
The law should have come into effect much earlier but the downturn of 2008 delayed its enforcement . If the mandatory health cover had been enforced then it would have had a negative impact on small enterprises that were already reeling under the worldwide economic turmoil.
Ashok Sardana, managing director of Continental Group, a insurance and financial services provider, believes that it will now boost the health care sector. “With 100 per cent of the population covered, it will boost revenue for hospitals and clinics,” he said, as more people will now seek medical treatment.
Once health insurance coverage is provided, people will not wait to go back home for treatment, he said.
The financial expert said some people wrongly believed that health cover was not necessary. “If you do not have medical insurance then all the money you save for retirement or for education of your children, you will give it all away to the doctor,” he said.
“All arguments (against health cover) fail when a person is hospitalised,” he said. The health insurance premiums in Dubai are much cheaper than in the US or in Europe, he said.
Dr Al Yousuf of DHA said for in-patient care, there will be a certain cap, but for out-patient treatment, the insurance company will cover it.
Insurance companies will try and compete and offer better services and that will not only provide fast access but also improve the quality of services.
“Indicators will be published [about medical facilities] such as post-surgical infection at a hospital. There will be transparency and you can decide where you would want get treatment,” he said.
The Dubai model of health insurance is based on the policies in Switzerland, Singapore, Holland and certain regional states where the demographics are closer to Dubai’s with similar expatriate populations, said the DHA official.
“Everyone should know there is now security for all and the system will take care of you, said Dr Al Yousuf, noting that visitors to Dubai will require emergency coverage.
That will cover the treatment of a diabetic visitor who suddenly goes into coma. “It will not cover general care (for the visitor),” he said.
Basic package
Dr Lalit Uchil, specialist physician at Mediclinic, Al Sufouh, a private clinic, said the basic package will cover only coughs and colds.
“Any further investigations such as an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging, a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs) will cost much more than what the Dh600 cover offers,” he said.
The doctor said the three main government hospitals will not be able to handle the rush of patients once the law goes into effect. “We will have to step up services, the number of doctors and number of beds will have to increase.” That is already happening, he said, as more hospitals and clinics are being built in Dubai.
He said medicines will need to be further subsidised to stop people buying and bringing cheaper drugs from their home countries. Many expatriates suffer from lifestyle diseases that are expensive to treat and medicate, he said.
The doctor welcomed the health insurance cover for all, saying that many people were earlier denied treatment.