Inadequate insurance cover leaves breast cancer sufferers often footing huge bills
DUBAI // Women being treated for breast cancer are facing bills of hundreds of thousands of dirhams because their health insurance cover is inadequate.
Patients need at least Dh1 million a year to be covered for any form of cancer, says Brigitte Chemla, chief executive of insurance company Whealth International and a breast cancer survivor herself.
But the basic plans provided as part of compulsory health insurance for employees cover only up to Dh150,000 a year in Dubai and Dh250,000 a year in Abu Dhabi.
“Often women are left to fend for themselves because of a lack of health insurance,” said Ms Chemla, a member of Dubai support group Brest Friends.
“I remember each session of chemotherapy cost Dh55,000, and I had eight of them and a mastectomy. It was the full set.”
Ms Chemla’s breast cancer was diagnosed nine years ago. Her treatment was covered by insurance and her insurer paid Dh2m, but few women have such comprehensive coverage.
Abu Dhabi has required employers to provide health insurance since 2009. The Basic Health Insurance Policy for staff with low salaries costs employers about Dh600 a year, and provides cover up to an annual maximum of Dh250,000.
In Dubai, where universal health insurance has been compulsory since June, the basic Essential Benefits Plan costs Dh700, with annual maximum cover of Dh150,000.
“The Essential Benefits Plan premium is very, very low, so the cover cannot fulfil all the commitments required to be really well covered,” Ms Chemla said.
“To be really covered for breast cancer, and cancer in general, you need at least Dh1m a year but if you are only paying for a basic insurance package the company cannot afford that.”
Ms Chemla said that if women found their cancer was more serious and needed more than basic treatment, the insurance scheme left them with the choice of paying the substantial shortfall or returning to their home country to be treated.
Chemotherapy costs at least Dh25,000 to Dh30,000 and can be more than twice that at the most expensive hospitals.
“Insurance cover of about Dh150,000 will not cover treatment if you have chemotherapy,” she said. “There is also surgery and possibly radiotherapy to consider, and that is why people must think properly about health insurance.”
Dr Sawsan Al Madhi, director general of Friends of Cancer Patients and head of the Pink Caravan medical awareness committee, has met many people who cannot afford treatment and turn to his organisation for assistance.
Dr Al Madhi said it did not affect only low-paid expats, but also women who were on a more attractive salary but were not prepared for the sudden, expensive bill.
“Their insurance companies have told them they cannot cover the costs of their treatment,” she said. “These unexpected costs for them are an issue now.”
Dr Al Madhi said that companies had to base the cover they offered on affordability and that patients with good cover wanted to be treated at the best, most expensive hospitals.
“That adds an extra burden to the cost of treatment, especially when the most expensive hospital does not always guarantee the best treatment.”
She said breast cancer treatment could cost between Dh250,000 to Dh300,000 for the first year but could be much higher, depending on the stage of cancer and the treatment required.
“This goes up depending on the hospital and breast cancer can take about five years to treat,” Dr Al Madhi said. “The best measure is for women to lead healthy lifestyles and get checked early and often, making it easier to treat breast cancer if it is discovered.”
Updated: October 2, 2016 04:00 AM