ABU DHABI // The qualifying salary ceiling has been raised to make more people eligible for basic health insurance. Employers must buy insurance for expatriate employees whose pay is below a certain threshold, fixed by law, and currently about 800,000 expatriates in the emirate are covered by the Basic Health Insurance Plan (BHIP), at a cost of Dh600 a head. Now the Abu Dhabi Executive Council (ADEC) has increased the salary cut-off point by Dh1,000; the changes to Law No 23 of 2005 mean those earning less than Dh4,000 a month with accommodation, or Dh5,000 without, will be eligible. Part of the reason for the change is to take into account the increase in salaries caused by fluctuating exchange rates and the rising cost of living in the emirate.
Daman, the national insurance company set up in 2006 to manage the mandatory health insurance scheme, has already begun implementing the changes. Dr Ahmed al Mazrouie, the chairman of the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD), said the changes would be good news for expatriates in the capital on low wages. "The amendment will allow low-income segments to continue to receive health insurance services under the Basic Health Insurance Plan, especially after the recent hike in their salaries," Dr Mazrouie said.
"The move will also open the door for more individuals to enter the plan." In the past six months, construction companies in the Middle East have been adjusting salaries to compensate for the rupee's decline against the dirham. However, the financial strain has eased slightly in recent weeks because of more favourable exchange rates, particularly for Indians and Filipinos. The reforms will also provide cover for the dependants of resident expatriates, who are not covered by insurance offered by their employers, poor non-nationals and critical humanitarian cases, according to ADEC.
The council and the HAAD have also ordered the creation of a committee to which people who would not normally qualify for the BHIP can appeal. "In any system, there is always a limited number of individuals who do not qualify," said Dr Finn Goldner, the head of health insurance regulation at HAAD. "The committee aims to rectify that. It is a social act." The amendments, he said, "are taking into account the changing world we live in and will give certain people the opportunity to apply for the plan who may not ordinarily qualify, such as small investors, or entrepreneurs. This is a charitable matter."
When health insurance was made mandatory in the capital in 2006, the number of insured individuals increased tenfold. At its launch last month, the recently formed Dubai Health Authority announced plans to create a system that gave everyone in the emirate comprehensive access to health care, but decided against following Abu Dhabi's lead and introducing a mandatory insurance system. * The National