By PMA RASHEED
The Gulf Today, 19 Aug 2010
A recent study by the Dubai Health Authority disclosed that 75 per cent of the low-income expatriates in Dubai lacked coverage of health insurance.
A panel of healthcare industry leaders based in Dubai discusses the shocking observation of the survey that many expatriates do not seek treatment on time and neglect their conditions due to the higher healthcare costs.
They criticised the negative attitude of many establishments on provision of health coverage to employees and their families, even though the health insurance schemes are much cheaper than in the US or Europe.
“The economic reality of the employees should be considered by the employer and the government,” the experts opined.
A huge disparity is obvious between the low and high-income groups in enjoying the benefits of quality and transparent healthcare services in Dubai.
“The question of unaffordability of healthcare by people in the lower socio-economic strata has to be answered by refining the general assumption on healthcare provision to different brackets of the people,” said Dr Azad Moopen, chairman of DM Healthcare in Dubai.
“The discrimination is, basically, not because of the unavailability of the healthcare. It turned out like this due to the ignorance of corporate groups or companies on the wellness of their workers,” he pointed out.
The emirate of Abu Dhabi has a mandatory health insurance programme for all companies’ employees and their families.
Dr Nawab Shafi ul Mulk, chief of Global Hawk Telemedicine Services in Dubai, pointed out that Dubai has yet to enforce the laws that make it compulsory for all workers to have a health cover.
“The emirate had planned to introduce universal health coverage in January 2009, requiring every employer to pay a set fee to the government for each employee,” he said.
“This money would have been used to provide employees with ‘free access to basic health care.’ However, this scheme has yet to be introduced.”
Thumbay Moideen, founder president of Gulf Medical University and Hospital, the first private teaching hospital in the UAE, said that the healthcare sector required a massive change in the outlook of planning to cater to the needs of the low-income groups.
“All the hospitals and clinics should subsidise the prices to cater to the masses. The healthcare service providers play a major role in alleviating the worries faced by the low-income group,” he added.
Dr KP Hussain, Managing Director and CEO of Fathima Healthcare Group, pointed out that most of the corporate groups in Dubai provide medical insurance to only employees in the managerial level.
“Less-paid staff members are not given any support by the employers, while budgeting plans of corporate firms allot annual insurance premium of Dhs2,000 to Dhs3,000 per staff in the managerial level,” he said.
Dr Moopen pointed out that it’s the responsibility of the employer to cover decent basic healthcare, except luxury treatments like cosmetic procedures.
“Each employer already has to invest around Dhs10,000 on each employee’s visa costs. Adding an additional Dhs1,000 on their insurance coverage is not a big deal at all,” he noted.
According to him, a statutory requirement should be enforced on employers on providing workers with the health insurance coverage.
Dr Mulk suggested introduction of models for social health insurance coverage programmes, funded by both the government and the employers. “Such programmes can ensure privileges of all sorts of basic health treatments to the people from the low-income bracket and their dependants,” he added.
“The laws should come into effect as soon as possible as it will facilitate the suffering people as the medical costs are higher,” he said.
Dr Hussain elaborated, “Ten years before, many insurance companies were providing medical services to corporate establishments with high premium for their white collar employees. And blue collar workers were neglected due to the high cost of premium which the establishments had to pay. Hence, the lower and middle income group could not get medical coverage.”
“Many people of lower income earners were suffering from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiac disorders. For treating the diseases they needed a minimum Dhs400 to 500 per month,” added the medical insurance expert.
“This scenario gave birth to the concept of providing cost-effective and comprehensive medical services for the lower and middle income groups, so they could avail the services throughout the year by paying a small premium to the insurance companies,” he noted.