DUBAI // Mothers of premature babies caution families to check insurance cover and hospital costs to avoid nasty surprises and crippling expenses.
Many first-time parents do not know about a Dubai Health Authority regulation two years ago that makes it compulsory for a minimum Dh150,000 cover for children born before 36 weeks to be included in the mandatory basic health insurance provided by employers.
An anxious mother recently called support group Small and Mighty Babies after her doctor warned of an early delivery and the insurance company said neonatal care was not covered.
“You cannot always plan for them coming early, but one thing you can do is to check your policy,” said group founder Joanne Hanson-Halliwell.
“One of the big problems facing families is they don’t know about the DHA announcement. This mother was worried how much she would have to pay because there is no telling whether the baby will be sick or fine on delivery. If your baby comes early, you get thrown into the crazy world of neonatal care and that’s a big worry.”
The group was set up with mothers Ms Hanson-Halliwell met in City Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit three years ago when her son George was born at 30 weeks.
While her policy covered all expenses, she has met several mothers struggling to pay steep medical charges. Some neonatal care costs go beyond the DHA’s mandatory cover.
The DHA has plans for special cases and is working on a fund to reduce the burden where expenses are very high. Details about this will be available later.
Mothers suggested parents ask authorities for help.
“DHA can suggest a government hospital, help work out payment plans,” said Samaiya Sakrani, whose daughter Rania Fahad was born at 26 weeks in March 2012. The baby was moved from City to Dubai hospital when Ms Sakrani was advised by her insurance provider to find a cheaper hospital.
“My biggest suggestion is to register at a government hospital. The care is excellent, they have good doctors. If you register at a government hospital you would still have a limit left on your policy as opposed to a private hospital.”
Families can upgrade their policy as a precaution.
“You may want to consider increasing the amount once you know you’re pregnant,” Ms Hanson-Halliwell said. “Some may think upgrading a policy is wasteful but you don’t know if you will have a premature baby so it’s better to be covered.”
Insurance firms said they negotiated lower rates with hospitals or in some cases absorbed the cost. Axa said it informed parents at 75 per cent exhaustion of the limit.
“There is no golden rule but depending on the baby’s health we propose alternative hospitals to the parent,” said Dr Sherif Mahmoud, head of healthcare at Axa Insurance.
“If doctors think the move is extremely risky for the child we try to negotiate with the hospital so the parent will pay less cash out of their pocket or a discounted rate with Axa for the parent. In some instances we absorb the extra cost if the member has exhausted his limit, it depends on a case-by-case evaluation.”
Christopher Sacramento, father of Nicholas, the UAE’s “miracle baby”, one of the smallest to survive at 530 grams, said parents should speak to insurers and employers.
“They too have a heart. Maybe they can do something, especially if it’s for a baby.”