Manama: Kuwait’s health minister said the application of the new health-care fees for expatriates would not be delayed and would start on October 1 as scheduled.
The statement by Jamal Al Harbi aimed to pre-empt any practical moves by lawmakers to slash the fees or to postpone their applications until at least next year, Kuwaiti daily Al Rai reported on Monday.
Lawmakers over the weekend issued statements calling for a review of the fees or for a delay in their application, citing humanitarian reasons and a need to assist foreigners unable to meet the high costs for medical services.
The MPs said the average incomes of most of the foreigners working in the country cannot support the increase in health fees.
In August, Kuwait said it would increase health-care fees for foreigners for the first time in more than two decades.
Expatriates, economists and some Kuwaiti analysts criticised the move as being rash, poorly planned and unfair.
Some Kuwaiti parliamentarians have launched aggressive media campaigns advocating against providing such services to foreigners for free or affordable prices.
They argued that with the drop in oil prices, Kuwait could no longer afford to foot the bill and expatriates would have to pay to enjoy living in Kuwait.
However, with less than two weeks left before the application of the new fees, some lawmakers said the health ministry should ponder new options.
“Even though we support the increase in the fees in order to meet the higher costs of medical equipment, there is an urgent need to take into consideration the human dimension and the average income of a large number of foreigners,” MP Khalid Al Otaibi said.
“There is also a need to reconsider some of the fees especially because most foreigners could no longer afford some services. In fact, the fees are much higher than those applied in neighbouring countries and even in Europe,” he said.
The lawmaker said the application of law should be delayed until early next year.
MP Humood Al Khudhair said there may be a meeting with the minister of health and that some of the fees would be reduced even though there is an agreement to impose them.
“The meeting with the health minister will be held before the application of the new fees in order to lighten the burden on expatriates,” he said.
“We will listen to the health ministry’s point of view. We are not against expatriates and there is an urgent need to review the fees.”
Lawmaker Waleed Al Tabtabai called for widening the scope of health insurances instead of raising medical fees.
“A clear health insurance scheme should be used to help foreigners instead of resorting to higher medical fees,” he said. “The sponsor should pay for the insurance while renewing the residence permit of the foreigner.”
More than two thirds of the 4.4 million people living in Kuwait are foreigners.
Several lawmakers have been since the beginning of the year pushing for measures to limit the number of foreigners, claiming demographic imbalance was a threat to country and an obstacle to locals getting jobs.
Taxes and higher fees for services, especially in the health sector, were among the measures that should be imposed to lower the number of expats, they said.