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Tue 6 May 2008 04:00 AM

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National insurance plan makes debut

Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HA-AD) has rolled out its highly anticipated insurance scheme for nationals based in the emirate, which replaces the existing health card system.

Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HA-AD) has rolled out its highly anticipated insurance scheme for nationals based in the emirate, which replaces the existing health card system.

The initiative, a first for the United Arab Emirates, marks a significant departure for HA-AD as locals can now choose between accessing free care at public or private facilities.

The state-owned insurance firm Daman will initially function as the only insurer in the market.

"The move is a major event...[as] now nationals will have the privilege to choose and the freedom to go wherever they want for medical treatment," said Dr Ahmed Al Mazroui, chairman of HA-AD.

The move is expected to prompt a drop in patient numbers at public hospitals. The CEO of Abu Dhabi Company for Health Services (SEHA), Carl V. Stanifer, conceded that, in the short term at least, nationals were likely to eschew government facilities for the novelty of the private sector.

"Much like when the non-nationals were insured, there will be a shift in the market from public hospitals to the private hospitals," he said. "What we hope is that they test the private sector and come back to us.

Before registering for the insurance card, entitled ‘Thiqa', nationals must undergo a basic screening programme.

The process, which will be repeated with each annual Thiqa renewal, represented an unprecedented ongoing opportunity to collate clinical data, said Dr Klaus Boecker, director of corporate performance and operation at HA-AD.

Boecker denied rumours that tests would include screening nationals for infectious diseases. We are not trying to identify any patients that would be valid for health insurance - we are looking for risk factors so that we can help the individual do something for their own health," he said.

Dr Michael Bitzer, CEO of Daman, did however confirm that hospitals would require approval before undertaking certain tests on national patients.

"For certain high-end cases, such as an MRI scan, or for chronic treatment there will be certain rules in place," he said. "We are currently informing the private sector what these stipulations will be so that everyone is aware.

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