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Thu 14 Jan 2010 01:51 PM

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Low paid Dubai expats struggling to access healthcare

Datamonitor report claims Dubai is lagging behind Abu Dhabi on key health reforms.

Low paid Dubai expats struggling to access healthcare
PRESSURE POINT: Dubai is lagging behind Abu Dhabi on healthcare reforms, according to a new report. (Getty Images)

Dubai is failing to keep pace with neighbouring Abu Dhabi on healthcare reform, leaving its low-wage expatriates struggling to access basic medical treatment, a new report has found. 

The gap in the emirates’ healthcare systems is also impacting the businesses of key stakeholders such as insurance and pharmaceutical firms, said analysts at Datamonitor International.

In 2006, Abu Dhabi introduced compulsory health insurance for all residents, a move Dubai planned to copy last year with the roll-out of its own health plan. However the scheme was suspended amid the credit crunch and no new timeline has been established.

“For [Dubai] expatriates, especially those on very low wages, the postponement of the health insurance reforms will mean that access to healthcare will remain patchy, since they will have to pay out-of-pocket for treatment or depend on the goodwill of their employers,” said Ruch de Silva, healthcare consulting analyst, MENA region.

A “huge percentage” of Dubai’s foreign workers are unable to afford treatment, he added.   

“The residents of Abu Dhabi, whether national or expatriate, are going to enjoy a much better healthcare system because even low-wage workers are able to access basic healthcare.”

Datamonitor believes health reform in Dubai could be suspended until January 2011.

The split in healthcare delivery between Abu Dhabi and Dubai may also deter insurance firms from operating in the UAE, as each emirate sets different legal requirements.  

“The different reforms have meant your insurance pools are much smaller than anticipated,” said de Silva. “Multinationals think they have access to a four million population. In fact, it’s slightly more than one million in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and because the health systems are so different.

“If the reforms were similar and insurers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai were able to combine the insurance pools, it would be a much bigger and more appealing insurance market.

If Dubai is to remain an attractive destination for expatriate workers, it must iron out the inequalities in access to medical care, de Silva said.

“The grassroots of healthcare need to be addressed now. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are both expat-centric emirates and healthcare is fundamental to building a sustainable region. Look at Hong Kong, look at Singapore. They have successfully developed good healthcare systems where expat residents can seek treatment. Abu Dhabi is addressing it, and Dubai needs to."

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Steven 10 years ago

My employer has just cancelled all employees Healthcare, and it is now upto the individual to provide their own, even though the contract states to be provided by the Employer. Are they allowed to do this?

Mounir 10 years ago

its a breach of contract, take it to the ministry of labour and you'll be given permission to leave the company without any need for an NOC. There are other options, but frankly, i wouldnt want to work for a company that does not provide medical insurance. Its the most basic of necessities; if that gets cut, whats next?

Amira Smith 10 years ago

What did happen to the Dubai health plan? All this fuss and money spent on planning it, and then it just disappeared. Also keen to know what happens if you live in Dubai and work in Abu Dhabi. Does that mean you can't access healthcare - under your insurance plan - in Dubai, if the plans are emirate-specific?

bee 10 years ago

There was also a big fuss about that from our company whether the UAE law is mandating the company to provide healthcare to their employees.. From my understanding, the company (specially in Dubai) is only mandated to provide at least access to public health care facilities.. This costs only about approx. 300AED. Regarding your contract.. if it's in the contract, then your company should not have done that. Better that you check first what is really in your contract before you complain..it's hard to get a job nowadays you know. And there are company's anyway who have private insurances in place but once you check out the insurance package it's basically useless anyway, unless you get really in trouble.. which I hope not. We'll I hope my comment helped you. If you want to avail of a public health card, you can visit the Dubai Health care website.. Cheers!

Qaiser 10 years ago

I know some people they dont have money to go to hospitals as they cannot afford price wise and they are bearing pain as they dont have money to spent for this.

Obelix 10 years ago

Thanks to the business of health insurance, affording quality health care is a dream for most individuals. The first question asked at any private hospital is " Are you insured", if you are, they go trigger happy with the tests and your credit card and keep swiping as if there is a contest to see how much can they claim from the insurance companies. As a self paying patient, recently my wife had a health complication. A leading hospital in Dubai misdiagnosed the case, kept her in hospital for 4 days, robbed us blind, including paying for the personal visits of two surgeons. The visit of the surgeons lasted less than 60s on each day. Thank you, that will be AED 450 per visit, please. The final invoice had a ficticious test which wasn't even remotely connected to the problem she was there for. When I raised a ruckus, they said "mistake", "we'll reverse the charges". I threatened to complain to the ministry and have called them twice. Their PR manager was supposed to call me to discuss with the Director before complaining to the Ministry of Health. Further surgery was advised. We shopped around for hospitals in Dubai and every single hospital offered "packages", which were exorbitant to say the least. Guess what, she finally went to India, got it done at a world class hospital for less than 1/4th the price in Dubai. Thanks to the recession, airfares to India have been reasonable lately :)

Minumaster 10 years ago

Boss, why do we forget that Dubai is a "Business Hub"! So, everything over here has a "Business" perspective, may it be Education or Healthcare or anything else! Therefore Health Care Sector also works on the principle of “Higher the Price, Better the Quality”! However, the “Quality” offered is surely a debatable question! (No wonder why GCC/Arab nationals go to India and other countries for the treatment even if the same is available here in UAE… OR …. May be it is Expensive for them too)!! I still remember the Golden Old days, when Healthcare used to be almost free for EVERYONE residing in Dubai, especially at the D.O.H (Dubai Govt.) run hospitals! During those times a (Govt.) “Health Card” of Dhs. 250/- for a Year was more than sufficient to access the Healthcare Services at hospitals like Rashid Hospital, Al Wasl Hospital etc. And most of the services including Surgeries etc. were either free of cost or at a very nominal and affordable fee! But, as the time changed, the things also changed! The most trusted and adhorable“Health Card” became more expensive and less useful! Nowadays even if one holds a “Health Card” one has to pay (from nose) for Each & Every Service which one avails at these hospitals (I am talking about Expats; I don’t know about Emaratis)! Since the ONLY binding on the Employers by LAW is to provide with a “Health Card”; most of them just FULFIL their responsibility by providing ONLY a “Health Card” to their Employees and wash their hands off! ……. Now, the Employee is left with only two options, ONE: to bear all the medical expenses by him/herself; TWO: Suffer till he/she can afford to return to his/her home country for treatment, because most of the companies DO NOT reimburse the expenses made by employees even at the Government Hospitals (which, needless to say, are also out of reach of a common man)! And the funniest thing is, NONE of the Government Hospitals are covered by ANY Insurance Company!! So, even if someone has a very basic Health Insurance (which is again good for nothing because it doesn’t cover any major hospitals in UAE); either provided by one’s employer or acquired on one’s own, one has to first spend (even at Govt. Hospitals) and then claim from the Insurance Company, which will be not more than 80% of the total bills, if allowed, as per the insurance policy, because these Government Hospitals fall “Out of Network” of the insurance company i.e. not included in the network of hospitals of the insurance company! I don’t understand why a Health Insurance (at least Basic) is made mandatory for Employers to provide to their Employees? And, why doesn’t the Govt. make it mandatory for the insurance companies to include the Government Hospitals in the basic cover, so that the healthcare facilities offered by Govt. Hospitals at least are accessible to common people (in other words “Low paid Dubai Expats”)!? ……………… But who cares????