A member of the Federal National Council has urged the government to speed up the introduction of comprehensive health insurance for all Emiratis.
Saeed Alaabdi, representing Ras Al Khaimah, questioned why the proposal had not yet become law, given it was first mooted in 2015.
Obaid Al Tayer, the Minister of State for Financial Affairs, said the legislation had been discussed at length with health authorities across the UAE.
But he said the last stage of the process was to seek cabinet approval, giving the bill final consent.
“So when will the comprehensive health insurance law see the light [of day]?” asked Mr Alaabdi.
“We are talking about a basic life necessity. I don’t know why health insurance is considered a luxury.”
Mr Alaabdi made his remarks during an FNC session in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
He pointed out that the draft legislation had been awaiting cabinet approval since 2018, and even played a video showing the minister assuring members it would be ready by 2019.
Responding to the comments, Mr Al Tayer noted that the budget for the Ministry of Health and Prevention had increased to Dh4.6 billion this year.
But he highlighted the need for due process, stressing the proposed law must properly scrutinised.
“Even after seeing the video my answer remains the same,” he said. “There are procedures for the federal government that we need to follow.”
Mr Alaabdi went on to suggest that Emiratis living in the northern emirates had long been anticipating a federal health insurance law.
“The issue is very clear, one whose hands are in the fire is not like one whose hands are in water,” he told the FNC, quoting a proverb.
“Those of us who do not have health insurance will direct our calls towards our leadership, hoping that they would secure it for us.
“Our leaders have not come short of supporting us in the past and they will not in the present nor in the future; and we ask that they speed it up as much as possible.”
Emiratis across the country already have access to free healthcare at government-run hospitals.
In addition, Emiratis in Abu Dhabi and Dubai have access to private healthcare centres through existing government programmes called Thiqa and Saada.
Public perception, however, can be that private hospitals are of a higher standard than government-run centres, prompting calls for free health insurance at private hospitals for all Emiratis.
Meanwhile this week, healthcare workers in the northern emirates also called for the approval of another long-awaited federal law requiring employers to provide health insurance to all their staff, regardless of nationality.
Mandatory health insurance for all workers was introduced in Abu Dhabi in 2006 and in Dubai in 2013, but the northern emirates have yet to do the same.
A federal version of the law was drafted in 2013 but has not been approved by the Cabinet.
This week, a number of low-cost private hospitals in Ras Al Khaimah told The National that between 35 and 40 per cent of their patients were without insurance.
They said workers who found themselves sick usually paid by cash, or with assistance from charities.
“Expenses in any hospital are high and not everyone can afford them,” said one director of a private hospital in RAK, who did not want to be named.
“Ras Al Khaimah is not a rich emirate like Abu Dhabi and Dubai and the job opportunities are less. If people have insurance, it will reflect positively on all residents.”
Ghulam Mohideen, a factory worker, said he had recently spent a third of his monthly Dh3,300 salary on medicine to treat a cold and a fungal infection.
“I spent all of my salary on medical care,” said Mr Mohideen, 31, who is from Pakistan.
“I got my salary and went straight to the hospital. If I don't go, I will get sick. I mean, if I die, who will take care of things in my country - my wife, my parents, my children? I have to be healthy.”
Government hospitals in the northern emirates do currently provide emergency treatment free of charge to all residents. A private hospital in RAK said it discretely waived the bills of patients who could not afford additional care.
“At the end of the day, we are human,” he said. “We understand each other, we have to feel for each other.”