Health coverage in Sharjah ‘should be mandatory’

The high price of treatment means some residents simply can not afford to visit hospitals or health centres in times of emergency or for even simply procedures, said a senior medical consultant at Al Qassimi hospital.

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SHARJAH // A hospital in Sharjah is asking patients to pay a Dh10,000 deposit before admitting them for surgery, even if they have health insurance.

The charge is necessary to cover the costs of treating people without insurance, a spokesman for Al Qassimi Hospital said.

The hospital’s request for cash deposits has alarmed residents and led to renewed calls for compulsory health insurance.

The high cost of treatment means some residents cannot afford to visit hospitals or health centres in times of emergency or even for simple procedures, said one senior medical consultant at the hospital.

“Insurance is more important today than ever before and it is important that every visa issued comes with health insurance otherwise the risk to people’s life without insurance is enormous,” he said.

“As doctors we will always treat the patient, but at the end there is supposed to be payment made.”

He said the hospital regularly receives patients seeking urgent help after putting off treatment until the last moment. “This is especially for dialysis treatment. Often the patient has to be in intensive care for about 10 days and if that patient has no insurance it gets very complicated.”

Patients who can not immediately pay their bills are required to agree a payment plan with hospitals, while in some desperate cases local charities make donations to cover the costs.

“There is still no direction from the Government to bring mandatory health insurance for every resident,” said Dr Abdelaziz Al Mheiri, the director of Sharjah Health Authority.

“What we have at present is a health insurance policy for every employee of Sharjah government, whether locals or expatriates. The approach is in phases and once the phase for every resident comes it will be communicated.”

Dubai’s health insurance law came into effect last month, requiring companies with 1,000 or more employees to provide them with health cover by October.

In phase two, companies with 100 to 999 employees will have until the end of July 2015 to comply. Companies with fewer than 100 workers have until the end of June 2016.

Staff must be insured, but not their families.

A number of large businesses in Sharjah already provide their staff with insurance. One senior HR official at a construction company said all its employees had health insurance, although it covered only workers not their families.

“Most of our workers don’t have dependents, so this is not an issue,” he said. “But if it could be made mandatory we would be happy for the workers in companies that don’t offer their workers this basic insurance.”

Abdul, an insurance broker in Sharjah, said he sold more car insurance policies than health cover because car insurance is mandatory.

“If a car, just a piece of equipment, is a must to be insured then health insurance for individuals should be even more of a must,” he said.

ykakande@thenational.ae