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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Half of UAE residents cannot afford future health bills, Cigna survey reveals

Nearly 50 per cent are not prepared for costs above compulsory cover provided by their employers

Worryingly, 93 per cent of UAE residents would self medicate rather than consulting a doctor because of inadequate insurance cover. Silvia Razgova / The National
Worryingly, 93 per cent of UAE residents would self medicate rather than consulting a doctor because of inadequate insurance cover. Silvia Razgova / The National

Almost half of UAE residents fear they cannot afford medical expenses for themselves or their families that are not covered by the mandatory employee policy, according to a new survey from the insurer Cigna released on Monday.

According to the 2017 Cigna 360 Well-being Survey, 47 per cent of respondents in the country said they lacked confidence to meet future healthcare costs for the family.

Meanwhile 45 per cent of respondents said they pay medical expenses out of their own pocket, compared to 37 per cent who say their employer-provided policy covers their medical expenses.

“While most people already have mandatory health insurance through their employer, the survey clearly indicates that a lot of people are still very worried and paying out of their own pocket,” said Arjan Toor, managing director of Cigna’s Global individual private medical insurance segment.

While health insurance has been mandatory in Abu Dhabi for several years, Dubai Health Insurance Law came into effect in January 2014, introducing a legal liability for every sponsor in the emirate to provide an essential benefits package, which costs between Dh550 and Dh750 a year.

Cigna's report, which surveyed over 1,000 UAE residents, also found that 93 per cent of respondents in the country self-medicate when they are unwell, while one in five delay necessary health checks because of inadequate insurance policies.

The UAE ranked fifth in Cigna's 2017 Health and Wellbeing Index with a score of 63.1, higher than the total average of 62.3. The ranking assessed wellbeing indicators such as physical health, financial health, work/life balance, family health and social health. Family health was the UAE’s top score in the ranking, while financial health ranked the lowest.

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Rasheda Khatun Khan, a wealth and wellness planner and founder of Design Your Life, said residents must financially prepare for unexpected health costs.

“Unfortunately we just don't know the future so having a back up plan is essential,” she said, adding that residents should build an emergency fund to act as a buffer. “Save up to three months of your income."

Ms Khatun Khan also advocates topping up a policy if it is inadequate to secure better coverage.

“If you can afford to, you should upgrade your policy," she added. "Review your current cover - a lot of employers only offer a basic policy that only covers emergencies and is limited. Most upgrades can only happen at the policy anniversary, so find out when yours is and at the very least get a quote.”

Despite the UAE’s robust healthcare system and the country’s position among the top 20 nations in terms of healthcare per capita spend, according to the World Health Organisation, Cigna said it still faces a number of healthcare challenges.

Jason Sadler, president of Cigna International Markets, said that 30 per cent of deaths in the Emirates are caused by cardiovascular disease and obesity, double the world average, in addition to rising incidences of diabetes, cancer and respiratory conditions.

“The Middle East is central to our strategy and our ambitions for global growth,” he said, adding that company was now producing locally targeted products. This includes a new health insurance product for Dubai residents launched yesterday, Cigna's first solution for private medical insurance in the UAE market.

The product, produced in line with the Dubai Health Authority regulations, includes regional and global coverage, with prices starting from US$500 for those on lower budgets. It will be rolled out to the other emirates at a later date.

In July, Cigna, one of the biggest US insurance companies, announced the acquisition of Zurich Insurance Middle East to grow its global footprint.

The insurer, which has opened an office at the Dubai International Financial Centre to serve as its regional headquarters, declined to give a value to the deal.

Mr Sadler said in July that Cigna will operate in the UAE, Lebanon, Kuwait and Oman, complementing the firm’s existing business in the Middle East where it delivers group health products and services to multinational companies, small businesses and family-owned enterprises.