Manama: Kuwait’s parliament voted 47 to 4 to approve a draft law that would make it mandatory for visitors to submit a health insurance that covers the duration of their stay.

Without the medical insurance policy, the interior ministry will not issue the visit visa, the draft law stipulates.

According to lawmakers, the legislation’s main aim is to prevent foreigners on a visit to the northern Arabian Gulf state from benefiting from medical services at the country’s public health facilities.

Several lawmakers hailed the importance of the law to improve health services for Kuwaiti nationals who have to share the facilities with the much higher number of expatriates.

Some MPs said that some foreigners came to Kuwait on a visit visa, but took advantage of the generous health system to undergo medical treatment.

One lawmaker claimed that there were foreigners who took the medicines provided by hospitals or health centres to their home countries in order to offer them as gifts for their relatives.

Another allegation was that expatriates took medicines provided by health facilities to sell in pharmacies in their home countries.

Another MP said that more than 620,000 foreigners landed in Bahrain in 2018, underwent medical treatment and left without paying charges.

Kuwait has been pushing for a tougher medical approach towards foreigners following complaints by lawmakers about the deterioration of health services due to congestion and pressure from foreigners who make up two thirds of the total population. The MPs called for the adoption of measures that would favour Kuwaiti nationals.

Measures targeting foreigners included steeply increasing heath charges, imposing insurance policies and limiting a hospital to Kuwaiti nationals as Outpatients Department (OPD) patients in the mornings.

The idea of confining medical services in public hospitals to Kuwaitis was first floated in 2013 when a hospital in Jahra, west to the capital Kuwait City, said it would accept only Kuwaitis in the morning and that foreigners were banned from entering the premises until the afternoon. However, expatriates could have access to doctors for treatment in emergency cases.

In 2017, one lawmaker alleged there were foreign patients who came to Kuwait for post-natal treatment, cancer treatment, obesity treatment and others and called for the imposition of an insurance scheme.

The draft law endorsed by the parliament on Tuesday will be referred to the government and the ministry will have one month after its publication in the official gazette to issue its bylaws that will decide, among other issues, the amount to be paid by foreigners when applying for a visa to visit Kuwait.