For several years, expats in Kuwait have been paying about KD 50 to health insurance companies for every year of their residencies. However, expatriates cannot renew their residencies unless they pay the health insurance fees, so they wonder where all this money goes and what do they get in return? They also pay for healthcare services at hospitals, which raises a big question among expatriates about the benefit of paying in advance.
Now the health ministry decided to increase health service fees for expatriates from October 1, especially with the near-completion of the health insurance hospital project, which will launch in 2018. The annual health guarantee paid by the expatriates will remain unchanged until 2020. Minister of Health Dr Jamal Al-Harbi approved the implementation of new fees from October, but the ministry did not add new charges for health insurance for expatriates, which is between KD 30 and KD 50. The new list will include some exemptions.
Health insurance centers and hospitals are expected to serve more than 1.8 million expatriates working in the private sector, which will reduce the pressure on the facilities of the ministry and contribute to improving the level of medical services. The problem here is not with the desire of the health ministry to cooperate with health insurance companies or others, but with those who are under fixed salaries and families who are affected even without any change in the old fees, aside from the high cost of living and school fees.
Such regulations will only lead to some families quitting Kuwait, leaving the fathers behind alone. The presence of families in the country stimulates the local economy, because it leads the expatriate to spend his salary in the country. He will now have to spend more to provide health services for his wife and children but with no change to his salary. It would have been better to find out the opinion of expats from various categories before issuing decisions that make them feel confused and worried. Expatriates are forced to pay extra fees for x-rays, surgery and medicine, so what is the use of insurance which they paid for?
There are fundamental differences in the issue of health insurance for expatriates – for example, those who receive a salary of more than KD 3,000 are not the same as those who receive KD 200 per month. The former will not be harmed if he pays any increase in health insurance, but the latter will surely be affected badly.
In 2015, a proposal was made by a committee of the Supreme Planning Council, which I think could work out if the Ministry of Health (MoH) had a strategy similar to the rest of the GCC on the medical treatment of expats. The proposal suggested canceling health insurance for expatriates and treating them in private hospitals through insurance companies. This system is highly effective in the UAE.
But the main obstacle in Kuwait was that there are no private hospitals that are able to accommodate the large number of expats in Kuwait – around 2.7 million. So, they adopted the solution of segregating clinics and distributing patients in the morning and evening periods.
The problem in the health sector is that even the idea of completing a hospital takes many years, followed by the issues of medical equipment and employment. Therefore, talk about any development and modification should not be based on who pays the fees and who does not. Quantitative and qualitative studies should be applied before issuing any new law or regulation.
By Muna Al-Fuzai