x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Corniche Hospital raises cost of having a baby by Dh8,500

Abu Dhabi's major maternity hospital makes its delivery fees several times higher.

ABU DHABI // The capital's major maternity hospital, where expectant mothers from across the UAE have flocked for years, has made its delivery fees several times higher, forcing some families to pay thousands to settle their bills. Although there is no formal price list, a cashier at the hospital said a normal birth now costs about Dh10,000 (US$2,700) and a caesarean section about Dh14,000.

Prospective parents confirm they have been quoted similar prices, while a hospital employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the cost of a delivery was previously Dh1,500. That cost is in addition to the cost of scans and antenatal appointments, which have also increased significantly. Patients without insurance from either Daman, the national insurer, or Thiqa, the health plan provided by Daman for nationals, must pay the charges in cash because the hospital is not equipped to handle credit cards.

Eighty per cent of residents are covered by Daman, and other private firms insure the rest of the market. Officials at Corniche Hospital declined to discuss the previous fee schedule, but acknowledged that prices had been increased. Seha, the agency responsible for managing Abu Dhabi's public hospitals, said the hospital's prices had been so low that people came from all over the UAE to take advantage of them.

"Insurers in many cases offered 100 per cent reimbursement of all maternity-related costs if a mother gave birth at Al Corniche, since their exposure was so minimal." As a result, the hospital was not able to cover its costs through insurance repayments. Seha took over administration of the hospital in August, and last month introduced the new price regime after negotiating the rates with Daman. Patients covered by other insurance companies, or with no insurance, must pay up front in cash and, if applicable, seek reimbursement from their own insurers.

All government hospitals in the emirate operate on the same system. In its statement, Seha said: "This issue seems to be a transitional one whereby the public is going from a heavily subsidised healthcare environment and minimal out-of-pocket cost to one run more like the private sector. "In fact, if you consult with any private healthcare facility that may not accept your particular insurance programme, you will be required to pay for services rendered in cash and file a claim with your insurer."

The hospital, like most others, will not release birth certificates until the bills are paid in full. Mothers not covered by Daman or Thiqa need to pay a deposit of Dh10,000 in cash before they give birth. Seha confirmed that until the final bill was settled, the hospital, which is operated day-to-day by the US medical company Johns Hopkins Medicine, may not issue birth certificates for the children born there.

The birth itself is only one of many costs for prospective parents. Patients report that ultrasound scans have gone up from Dh80 to Dh1,020. When babies are born prematurely or with complications the costs can quickly escalate. A night in the neonatal intensive care unit can come to Dh3,245. Some newborns must stay for months before they are stable enough to go home. One senior member of staff said she was worried about the impact the price increases will have on new mothers.

"Some women have been turned away because they have no money. It has gone up substantially, very quickly, and the women were not prepared for it," the staff member said. She said expectant mothers may be cutting back on medical treatment to save money, potentially putting their lives and those of their babies at risk. "They are refusing tests because they know they have to pay for them. I have had women come back to me saying: 'They have told me I have to pay this for the test and I am not doing it.'

"One woman flew home to India the night before she was due. It is not safe to fly but they are going, they are risking it. But they have to." One expectant mother, who asked to be identified only as Stacy, said: "There are women there who won't be able to afford this care. It is becoming a has-and-has-not situation." For mothers who do pay the higher charges, there is yet one more logistical challenge: the hospital does not accept credit cards and so parents must bring thousands of dirhams in cash with them.

"The price they charge is higher than our daily withdrawal limit and it is inconvenient to have to bring cash rather than cards," said another expectant woman, Mairi Claire. Some patients said they had to withdraw money from ATMs three or four days in a row to gather the money necessary for a deposit at admission, while others were concerned about the lack of a formalised price-list. Seha said although no price list was available to the public, "prices are made available to patients. Once Seha finalises its fee schedule, it will post the rates for selfpayers".

The hospital defended the level of the deposits as reflecting the cost of the service, and said it was looking into accepting credit card payments. amcmeans@thenational.ae