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Mandatory health insurance delayed

Insurance scheme to cover every employee in Dubai has been delayed for up to two more years.

DUBAI // Health insurance to cover every employee in Dubai has been delayed for up to two more years.

The insurance scheme first proposed several years ago and originally scheduled for 2009 now has a deadline of 2013.

"We have the models. But what we need to do is revise the model towards the existing status of the people and businesses in Dubai," Laila Al Jassmi, the chief executive of the health policy and strategy sector at Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said yesterday.

Under the authority's original plan, employers would pay the Government between Dh500 and Dh800 a year for each employee, who would register with an outpatient clinic for basic healthcare services.

It was postponed in 2009 because of the effect of the economic downturn on company finances.

The scheme is now part of the 2011-2013 plan for improving healthcare services in Dubai.

"It is at the top of our agenda," Ms Al Jassmi said. "This is an issue being seriously looked at by the executive council in Dubai."

In Abu Dhabi, since 2005 employers and sponsors have been obliged by law to provide health insurance to employees and their families.

Insurance is compulsory for all male employees, their spouses and up to three children aged up to 18, as long as they live in the emirate.

Since last year, failure to comply may incur a fine of at least Dh300 per employee per month.

In Dubai, some companies already provide insurance for employees and others contract directly with hospitals for treatment, but uninsured workers still struggle to pay their medical bills.

Maria C, a Filipina maid in Dubai, said that although her sponsor paid for her initial medical tests, she is not covered by medical insurance. After discovering she may have a thyroid problem, she was told blood tests could cost Dh700, and has therefore decided to ignore the problem.

"It's too much," she said. "I only earn Dh2,500 a month, and I send Dh1,000 back home to the Philippines. That leaves me with very little to live."

Results from the first phase of the Dubai Household Health survey last year showed that three-quarters of Indians, other Asians and Arab expatriates were not covered by health insurance.

This is a major concern for the authority, Ms Al Jassmi said. "If you look at the emirate now, most of the private sector provides some kind of health insurance coverage. However the blue-collar workers are a major segment who are mostly not covered. The new policy will be a complete policy that will cover everyone."

Another part of the three-year plan is to improve health funding. To do this, the DHA is proposing a National Health Account that would monitor Dubai's healthcare spending and compare it to that in other emirates.

"The UAE spends 2.5 per cent of its GDP on health care. In the US, 17 per cent of the country's GDP is spent on healthcare services," Ms Al Jassmi said. "Before we can project increases in budget, we must first know exactly where all the spending is going."

Another objective of a National Health Account is to determine the level and type of spending by private hospitals and clinics, which the authority hopes to expand.

Public healthcare facilities in Dubai provide 39 per cent of outpatient services, and the rest is provided by the private sector.

"This is a good figure because our strategy is to embark on the private sector," she said. "To maintain a sustainable healthcare system, you have to shift the spending on healthcare services towards the private sector, and allow it to grow. This would create a good economic system and encourage medical tourism."

In addition to revising budgets and investment, the three-year plan also involves providing better access to information.

"One thing that has come up is the quality of healthcare data that we are providing our consumers," Ms Al Jassmi said. "We do not have a central database where everyone will have access to information.

"We need to build a network where the consumer has access to information concerning the efficiency of healthcare providers, the difference between hospitals, the productivity of these hospitals and the services they provide."

Improving the quality of manpower through more rigorous screening of education and credentials, as well as offering providers with continuous education to keep up with latest advances in medicine, is also part of the three-year plan.

mismail@thenational.ae

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