Local paramedics quickly transfer the injured patient from the ambulance to the Rashid Hospital. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Dubai: Employers and sponsors who have not yet purchased health insurance for their employees and their dependents, respectively, will have to start paying penalties from the end of this year, with no further extensions to be given, a top Dubai Health Authority (DHA) official has said.

Since the roll-out of the Dubai Health Authority’s (DHA) mandatory health insurance scheme, which is in line with the Health Insurance Law No. 11 of 2013, all Dubai visa holders must have had access to medical insurance by June 30, 2016, but 12 per cent of the population have still not been covered, said Dr Haidar Al Yousuf, Director of Health Funding at DHA, told Gulf News.

“There will be no more extensions given as the deadline was actually in June 2016. Those who haven’t purchased a health insurance for their employees and dependents are in violation of the law. What was extended earlier was only the deadline on penalties, but by the end of this year, the fines will become active,” he said.

Up to date, he said, 88 per cent of the target population in Dubai, almost 3.5 million people, are already benefiting from the mandatory health insurance. “Over the next month, the remaining 12 per cent need to have the insurance [or their employees or sponsors] will be liable to penalties after that.”

Dr Yousuf was speaking on the sidelines of the 3rd annual health insurance congress held in Dubai on Thursday, which was held under the theme of ‘Innovation and Sustainability’ and which addressed the tremendous opportunities as well as challenges that await Dubai ahead of the final systemic implementation of the mandatory health insurance.

“People need to start thinking [in the right way], because the fines are more expensive than the cost of insurance itself. The fine is Dh500 per month per employer, and the basic benefit package starts from Dh550 person per year. It makes more sense to purchase that insurance as it protects not only the employee but also the employer,” Dr Yousuf said.

The law mandates health insurance for everyone, the responsibility for providing the insurance lays with the employers first, and for those who don’t have employers, it lays with the sponsor. The law also mandates tools that ensure people do get the health insurance, so it became linked to the residency visa process. The law also prohibits the employer or sponsor from deducting the amount of premium money from the salary of the employee. It is illegal by law and punishable, he explained.

Speaking further about the ‘dependents’ category, making up one million of the population, which includes spouses, children and domestic workers such as houseboys, maids and nannies, he said it is the responsibility of the employee himself if his employer doesn’t provide insurance to his dependents to purchase insurance for them. Only less than 30 per cent of dependents of employees are currently covered by companies.

“The government has ensured that there are affordable packages in the market, starting from Dh600. With around Dh2,000, the dependents can all be insured. It is an affordable amount. The essential benefit plan covers doctors’ visits, referral to specialists, surgical operations, maternity, emergency services, investigations, medication and all benefits required.”

There have been lots of cases where uninsured dependents have fallen sick and required to pay huge bills, he said.

“We have seen many cases where people had a housemaid without a health insurance who suddenly fell sick and her hospital bill went up to Dh60,000, which they had to pay. Recently, we had seen a case with an Emirati family whose housemaid went into the intensive care unit (ICU) and had a very complicated case. Their total bill was Dh165,000 and it was fully covered by insurance. He only paid Dh500 as the deductible,” he said.

The law was designed to make sure the entire system is sustainable and no one party falls short of cash as result of having to pay for health care, he added.

In regards to utilising innovation in the health insurance sector, Dr Yousuf said the DHA has electronic systems that work to ensure people are protected, have access to their health care package and understand how to use it.

“We have specifically designed a complaints portal called iPROMeS, where any person who is not satisfied with the services provided by the insurance company can reach us directly.”

Also, Dr Yousuf advised people to have a look at the packages from all insurance companies licensed by DHA through www.isahd.ae and choose their best options.

The congress was hosted by Gulf Medical University (GMU), which is owned and run by Thumbay Group, in association with Aafia Medical Billing Services. The event was presided by chief guest Shaikh Mohammad Maktoum Juma Al Maktoum, Chairman of MBM Groups, and attended by industry leaders and policymakers representing the government, and health care industry including insurance providers and hospitals.

Dr Yousuf addressed delegates advising them to focus on the dependents category in the market and to appeal to them and provide them with cost-effective packages that deliver good quality of care to people.