Health insurance in Dubai

Dubai’s whole health insurance system changed. And yes, it does affect you

Interview, Area Guides

So, what’s going on – in layman’s terms?
From January 1, 2009, Dubai Health Authority is introducing health care for everyone with a Dubai visa – covering everyone who lives here, and those who live here and work elsewhere. The plan in the first year is to introduce only the basic services: X-rays, lab tests and check-ups.

How are they going to do this?
First up, all of the clinics and hospitals in Dubai will be pre-vetted by the DHA in terms of their status as an OCP – Out-Patient Clinic practice. Patients will then have to sign up for one of these OCPs, which will become theirs for one year – they can’t change it. When they go to visit the OCP they will then have to make a co-payment to see a doctor – and the law dictates that the minimum payment for this must be Dhs25. But the clinics can charge as much as they want.

Are the rules the same for all residents?
The government will pay for all the Emirati citizens, or locals. Employers must pay for employees. And anyone who is not an employee or a citizen must pay for themselves. The anticipated cost in the first year for access to a basic lab test or X-ray will be between Dhs500-800 per year.

When do they have to do this?
Employers must sign up their employees on the new plan when their current health insurance runs out in 2009, or – if they don’t already have insurance – when their company’s trade licence renews. Someone who is not employed must sign up when their visa is up for renewal, or they won’t be able to renew it. Businesses also won’t be able to renew trade licences unless they do this, even if they have an insurance policy already. Every single person must be covered under this plan.

Is there a deadline for signing up to an OPC?
No. But if OPCs don’t encourage people to sign up straight away they may lose current patients as they enroll elsewhere, and therefore won’t be able to go back to their old clinic for one year.

What’s the deal with tourists?
They don’t come under this law; they come under a UAE federal law, which requires them to buy a [demand] policy which covers the time they are in Dubai. It’s part of the visa process. A tourist must buy a federal policy through Daman, the monopolistic insurance policy, formed by Abu Dhabi for Abu Dhabi residents. They’ll enforce this at the airport. It went into effect a few months ago, in conjunction with the visa office.

How will this system change affect day-to-day life in the UAE?
If you’re a white collar worker who has insurance through your company or the finance to seek healthcare, it’s really not going to affect you too much. Same deal for Emiratis who have health cards. But the majority of the population here currently has no healthcare plan or access to healthcare – that means all the people who work in hotels, restaurants and construction sites. This system will give them an opportunity to go to see a doctor for Dhs25. This change will also create a whole new group of people who suddenly find out they have an inherent medical problem – that they’ve been walking around with conditions such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure or AIDs without knowing, which could certainly increase the strain on the UAE’s healthcare system.

Which OPCs will this category of patient be going to?
Construction workers will go to whatever OPC they sign up for – they are not limited to any in particular. Hopefully you’ll see an outcrop of new OPCs that cater to blue collar workers, as well as an expansion of those that already do.

Will pre-emptive tests, which were previously so expensive unless they showed positive results, now become affordable?
We hope so. Now you will be able to go to a primary care doctor and at least question the likelihood of a growth being malignant, for as little as Dhs25. If it looks like it is malignant, they’ll recommend you go to a specialist, which will be at your expense. But at least you will have an educated opinion about whether you should spend money on it or not.

Would you say then, that Dubai’s current health-care system is very undeveloped?
The UAE currently has 20 per cent fewer physicians per capita than the average country in the Middle East. We also have so many blue collar workers here whose employers have no intention of insuring them. This reformation will be a major step towards the long term good health of the population, and should hopefully create a new outgrowth of new clinics, pharmacies and research.

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