Rising healthcare costs are a cause for concern despite the widening health insurance coverage across the UAE. Unfortunately, there is no co-relation between high cost and high performance, possibly because there is no public accountability on this.
The difference in hospital admission costs varies by more than 200 per cent whereas day-care rates vary from Dh3,500 to Dh15,000 a day. At a number of facilities, the price is not linked to the quality of services. It might reflect on the positioning of the hospital, the equipment and facilities, but not the outcome of services.
Besides, there are no incentives for low-cost and high-quality healthcare services…
It is time to re-think healthcare – by increasing focus on the ‘health’ and ‘care’! When someone gets sick, the first thought comes to mind is the cost of treatment and the quality – adding to the growing concerns.
Due to health insurance coverage and other factors, healthcare service providers have seen costs increase over the last few years – despite the growing capacity to handle more patients. From 2013 to 2017, the number of hospitals in the UAE has grown from 107 to 137. As of 2017, this comprises a total of approximately 13,200 hospital beds.
From 2018 to 2022, the private sector healthcare spend is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 9.5 per cent. Gross written premium (GWP) in health insurance reached Dh19.08 billion in the UAE in 2019, according to UAE Insurance Authority.
Costing is a factor
As a result, many patients opt for treatment in their home countries after carrying out a thorough cost-benefit analysis. In many cases, the benefits of travelling to home country - or other countries - far outweighs the cost of treatment in the UAE.
This defeats the government’s objective to boost medical tourism and setting up large healthcare facilities across the country.
The UAE healthcare sector needs some sort of re-adjustment to serve patients better and boost medical tourism. This requires greater regulatory oversight on quality services and pricing – the same way the UAE Central Bank regulates the banking sector. Any increase in bank fees and charges needs UAE Central Bank approval.
However, hospitals and clinics do not need regulatory approvals for changing the fee structure. Before any of these initiatives, the consumers need to change their mindset and lifestyle. They should start by seeing themselves as consumers of healthcare, who are in control of what their dollars purchase for them.
They need to change their attitude and behaviour when it comes to seeking remedy for minor cold, cough, fever or body pain – one doesn’t need to visit a specialist.
Consumers have a big role in getting national healthcare spending under control - but most healthcare users don’t understand how their choices have contributed to the current challenges.
When things are covered under insurance, consumers are least bothered to do any homework as for them it’s just the co-payment which is seen as cost out of pocket. When treatment is elective and not part of insurance package, everyone take time to decide if it’s really needed or requires a second opinion. Or can be totally avoided, just like aesthetic surgeries.
In contrast, most consumers are unaware of the actual costs of the healthcare services covered by their insurance plans. When billing and payments are arranged between doctors and insurance companies, consumers don’t think twice about going to the doctor or getting a prescription filled.
This kind of behaviour leads to unnecessary use of healthcare system and drives up cost. While consumers have little control over factors contributing to healthcare costs, we do have control over the lifestyle choices we make. Develop a better understanding on how things work by looking at:
Information on the cost of health services and range of alternative treatments. Insurance companies should start sharing exact information to consumers on the cost.
A responsible decision about using health services could be as simple as speaking to a tele-doctor or nurse, or taking a day off work to rest instead going to the hospital. Insurance companies can also provide guidance on second opinion choices.
When consumers are educated and make informed choices, employers get more motivated to provide higher benefits and higher network choices to employees, unlike the situation when employers are staring at a high loss ratio situation. And they start downgrading the benefits to manage their budget…
- Leena Parwani is CEO of LPH Financial Services.