x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Health coverage a needed benefit

A new delay in mandatory health insurance in Dubai is bad news for thousands of workers who deserve better.

Maria C is a maid in Dubai who works hard for little money. It should go without saying that the last thing she needs to worry about is affording medical treatment on a salary of Dh2,500 a month.

But as The National reported yesterday, that's precisely her predicament. And Maria is only one example; there are many more like her.

Tens of thousands of employees have to either pay their health bills or go without treatment, because their companies do not provide them health insurance. Reasons vary and some of the explanations are understandable. But that does not make it a corporate policy that should continue.

Dubai officials agree. Yet a scheme for mandatory health insurance for all workers employed in Dubai - created in 2009 - has so far not been implemented. Now it won't be until 2013 that health care is a required benefit for every worker in the emirate.

One must sympathise with companies squeezed during these tough economic times, and understand the risks to the nation's economy if businesses stop considering the UAE as investment-friendly. But employers' responsibility to their staffs must come first. It is unacceptable that the sick should forgo treatment because they cannot afford the cost of care.

The law at least is on their side. Federal statutes requires coverage for job-related health issues, and since 2005, Abu Dhabi companies have had to provide insurance (though enforcement began only last week).

To bring Dubai and the Northern Emirates in line with the capital, coverage could be applied in an incremental manner, starting with companies that have over 1,000 employees, for example. These companies have basic insurance themselves and they should be able to afford the costs.

Smaller companies could be ordered to provide treatment options or enter into agreements with clinics or doctors to lower prices.

Labour costs may have to adjust so that employers can afford to adequately pay and give benefits to their staff. If companies are unable to provide for employees, perhaps they should think twice before employing new people.