Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: A 26-year-old Bangladeshi has been admitted to a government hospital for the past one year following a traffic accident. Doctors have certified he is 100 per cent disabled and will remain so for life. Although his wounds have healed and he is ready to be repatriated, he cannot go home:  his massive medical bills have to be cleared first.

He is among scores of expatriates with low incomes who have no health insurance cover. His sponsor, who runs a barber shop, said the bill is way beyond his means.

An Indian family, whose son was admitted in the hospital for over six months, has been deseprately contacting charities after getting a bill of Dh 318,000. Another family recently got a bill close to Dh 1 million for the delivery and extended stay of their two premature born twins at the neonatal intensive care unit.

Another Indian family was shattered to find out their 8-year-old son suffers from brain tumour. The cost of treatment rose to over Dh 80,000 in a matter of weeks, a sum they could barely afford.

In another case, a wife, the sole breadwinner of a family, is facing a similar bill since her husband has been admitted to the hospital from January following a stroke.

Families burdened with huge medical bills, with no means of settling them, are no rarity at government hospitals in Dubai.

The solution lies in implementing a mandatory health insurance policy in Dubai, sources at the health sector, charity organisations and social workers, told Gulf News. Meanwhile, officials said that the draft law is in its final stages of approval.

An impending law mandating health insurance for all in Dubai has been talked about for few years now. The worst affected due to the lack of such a law are low income expatriates. They either have to pay, or are left to the mercy of the employers, who may or may not bear the costs of treatment. If not, they should succeed in getting help from charities and social organisations.

"It is important to note that all employers are responsible to have in place a health insurance policy for their employee and this is a moral obligation, which unfortunately not all employers are abiding by," a Dubai Health Authority (DHA) spokesperson said.

"The population of Dubai has increased over the last few years. Thus it is timely that in the near future the introduction of a universal mandatory health insurance scheme will resolve most issues, as every resident of Dubai will be covered for certain health services. Dubai is moving forward in that direction. The draft law is in the final stages of approval."

Once implemented, every employer will have to buy health insurance for his employee- which will cover both private and public hospitals in the Emirate. The DHA will play a major regulatory role to ensure that the cost of medical services and insurance policies remain affordable, said the DHA spokesperson.

The DHA has looked closely at a number of benchmarking practises for health insurance both in the region and internationally. Abu Dhabi implemented compulsory health insurance in 2006. Although Dubai had planned to do so sooner, changes in the financial climate thwarted the plans.

Many private firms in Dubai offer health insurance to their employees, but their families are not covered.

DHA spokesperson said: "As a vital service provider, we take into account the ethical and moral requirements-we are always aware that the field involves the life and death of patients and keeping in mind the oath all doctors have taken- to treat all patients no matter what race, religion or their social standing, leads to the fact that all patients coming to hospitals, need to be treated immediately, especially emergency cases, regardless of their capability of paying or not."

"At present, all emergency cases are treated free of cost, until the patient is stabilized. Once the patient is stabilized, he is either discharged or needs further treatment, which is chargeable. At this point in time, the patient and the employer can take a decision on whether to continue treatment at the DHA hospital or transfer the patient to another hospital or the patient may choose to return to his or her home country- this decision is to be taken by the patient according to what works in his or her best interest."

The costs at the DHA hospitals are constantly reviewed and in general are below the market costs and we try to ensure it remains that way, added the DHA official.

In May, the Dubai Executive Council reviewed a proposed health funding system that aims to facilitate the access to health services by people with limited income and enhance cooperation between governmental and private medical institutions.  The proposed system is a part of Dubai's Strategic Plan 2015.

The system also aims to improve the quality of rendered healthcare services and developing the emirate's health system.

The council reviewed a number of proposals related to financing health services, such as social health insurance, special health insurance and other categories, as well as ways in which they will be used with the insurance system and schedule for implementation, and the expected results, it was announced.