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Howe to do it: It’s time for medical insurance

It was interesting to note that the Department of Health has introduced a user pay system for treatment provided at its public hospitals in the UAE.

Gulf News

It was interesting to note that the Department of Health has introduced a user pay system for treatment provided at its public hospitals in the UAE. What effect this has on the expatriate living in UAE or the tourist visiting these shores remains to be seen.

Briefly, the decree stipulated that all expenses for medical treatment provided to expatriates on visit visas will be borne by the patient or their sponsors. It is stated that the Department of Health will have the right to recover dues by any and all legal means from patients or their sponsors.
On the surface, this would indicate that the organisation sponsoring the visitor - be it hotel, travel company or any other entity - will be responsible for the payment if the visitor does not pay. Only time will tell if this will have an adverse effect on the tourist industry, but it is another factor to be considered.

The decree also listed the expenses for operations ranging from Dh2,000 for relatively minor surgery to Dh50,000 for a complex open-heart surgery. On top of this, hospital beds will now be charged up to Dh300 for a single bed night.

These charges relate to persons holding a valid health card. Those unfortunates who do not have a valid one will be expected to pay the full cost. How this is worked out could be an accountant's dream as there are many different classifications of cost.

As expected, the issue of free medicines has now ceased and they will have to be bought at the going rate from private pharmacies. This could come as a shock to many when they realise the market price of some medications.

There will be more than a few grumbles among the Dubai expatriate community and there may even be some who will vote with their feet. However, it is time to wake up and smell the coffee, and without doubt, the country cannot continue to provide virtually free medical treatment.

If the increased costs are to be borne by the company - rather than the employee - there is no doubt that this will have to be passed on to the consumer resulting in higher prices. If the employee picks up the tab then, as mentioned previously, he may consider this to be the straw that breaks the camel's back and leave. If he stays, then he will have less money to spend on other consumer items.

Obviously, it costs money for the health authority to continue with the service and quality the people have come to expect in Dubai. The new charges are still considerably less than one would have to pay at the private hospitals and clinics. The money raised can pay for better facilities and the latest technology and can only be good in the long run for all concerned.

Some experts may argue that this will have a depressing impact on the local economy and could result in a further slowing-down on say the retail side. Others may contend that it will lead to a more efficient labour market by ridding it of that sector that adds no value to the country's economic well-being. Two industries that could benefit are medical insurance and the private hospitals. Both may see improved business as a result of these new measures with any increase in activity having a beneficial knock-on effect for the country's economy.

The message is clear. To the company - ensure due allowances and contingency plans have been made for your employees so that potential future health costs are covered. To the expatriate - have a valid health card and also seriously consider and weigh up the benefits of joining a private medical insurance scheme.

Tim Howe is managing director of Al Ghaith and Co, public accountants, and a financial writer.