Health Insurance for Dubai Expats
Do you really need a health insurance policy?

Do Dubai expats need health insurance? Or is the government health card is enough to cover hospital and other medical bills? This is a review and an analysis of Dubai healthcare system. It will help you to decide whether expatriates need a private health insurance in Dubai.

Alongside Dubai's economic development in recent history, has been a similar development in the health and healthcare of the Emirate as well. Like the economy, there have been some ups and downs as well. While efforts have been made to improve the general well-being of the country by providing cheap health coverage to citizens through the Health Card, growing affluence is having unintended consequences on the health of the country, seeing an astounding growth in lifestyle-related diseases.

Dubai’s healthcare system for expatriates is an open door policy – provided that you have a Health Card. A health card is offered by the government and those who wish to apply for it will have to go through a complete physical examination at their own expense. Once acquired, the Health Card allows the holder to access public hospitals and clinics, and is designed to provide subsidized healthcare costs to the holder. Without a Health Card, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to receive medical attention at a public hospital or clinic – the general consensus is that if you do not have a Health Card, you are not a paying member and / or you have private coverage. At this point, you will be expected to go to a private hospital or clinic in order to receive treatment.

Although the Health Card is designed to provide subsidized costs of health care, the prices that the healthcare system in Dubai now has to charge are almost on par with private medical care. This is due to some factors which have driven up the cost of providing healthcare in the region. The Health Card is structured in a co-pay system where the holder will still need to pay for every treatment and depending on what they treatment is, it can be quite expensive.

Many are saying that the Health Card itself no longer provides adequate subsidization – it only provides access to the hospitals and clinics. Costs have risen significantly for residents of Dubai, and especially for expats, putting healthcare out of reach for many. For example, chemotherapy costs over $2000 USD per session, with the average patient requiring more than a dozen per year. In another case, a couple was speaking on their own experiences of costs for child birth – it cost roughly $20 USD in 2000 but it now costs over $3,000 USD. A visit to the general practitioner at a public hospital can cost you anywhere from 250 Dhs to 400 Dhs ($ 75 - $ 120 USD) and an overnight stay in the intensive care unit can set you back almost 3100 Dhs ($ 845 USD). If you get injured and require medical attention, your costs could represent a significant financial impact. Keep in mind that these are general prices – if you need to go and see a specialist, you will need to pay significantly more. If you develop a serious injury, the costs that you are looking at are in the hundreds of thousands of Dhs.

The cost of financing Dubai's healthcare system has gotten quite expensive for a variety of reasons with the most prominent being the advent of lifestyle diseases. As Dubai continues to develop as a world class city, and with its large expatriate population, its local population is increasingly exposed to westernized cultures and diets. As a result, complications related to diet and poor health, including diabetes and heart diseases have been on the rise and are putting a growing strain on Dubai’s healthcare system. As resources become increasingly over-utilized, costs increase in order to compensate, especially given Dubai's low doctor-population ratio. Dubai’s population is forecast to rise at a fast rate over the next few years and will further hamper the system.

Dubai is also home to many different types of diseases and problems that can happen to its residents. Dubai is very hot, with temperatures reaching well past 40 degrees Celsius, and several health complications can arise, including heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

In addition, Dubai is becoming a hot spot for medical tourism, attracting significant amounts of people who require specialized and general treatment. People in neighboring countries see Dubai as a regional hub for receiving top quality healthcare and are willing to travel to receive it, while patients from western nations often seek more elective treatments. As such, this adds to the congestion of the healthcare system.

With the prices as high as they are and as they are forecast to continue to increase, many advisors around the world are recommending travelers and expatriates to acquire some sort of health coverage prior to arriving in Dubai. A medical policy can cover your healthcare needs, putting you at ease without having to worry about the costs. Moreover, the Dubai government has been considering making health insurance compulsory for all foreigners of Dubai for many years now and may reconsider putting such mandate into force in the coming years; health coverage now would be a wise decision regardless of the Health Card especially if you are looking to continue to travel or work abroad.

The Dubai government has for been looking to implement mandatory coverage by approved insurers since 2008. However, due to the financial crisis, the government halted the discussion as they were afraid of a mass exodus of expatriates. It is still in consideration, only it hasn’t been fully implemented yet.

As costs are rising and mandatory insurance having a high possibility of being put into effect, it is important to know some of your options and understand some information with regards to your health insurance options. To start, knowing the difference between local health insurance and international health insurance will put you at an advantage when handling proposals from insurers and brokers.

It is first important to understand that the biggest difference between a local and international plan is that an international plan is international and a local plan is, well, local. What this means is that if you were to leave Dubai, an international plan will continue to be able to service you, whereas a local plan’s coverage will have to end. This is important because when you leave your plan, you may or may not be able to get the same plan when you go overseas – an international plan will allow you to preserve your coverage.

With both local and international, you can have access to a wide range of coverage options, including inpatient, outpatient, dental and more. It’s hard to say which is better in this aspect, especially since it’s only for a local market. However, international plans usually have higher claim limits, but a local is often much cheaper.

You might be wondering why there are such differences between a local plan and an international plan and the reason for this is based on how they are calculated for pricing.

A local plan calculates their premiums by determining the general health of the person seeking insurance. Are there any health concerns which may affect the amount of money that the insurance company will have to pay out? Are there any conditions that may be chronic, requiring continual treatment? Depending on your health, a premium for a local plan can be high and can increase significantly upon renewal if you have required intensive and/or ongoing treatment; this type of calculation is known as an experience rating.

Premiums for international health insurance plans are calculated based on a community rating – how much, on average, does it cost to insure a specific age group in a community of people in a given area? These are the main deciding factors, meaning that your premium will not spike if you had a bad year and required some form of costly treatment as the plan is rated at the broader risk presented by the pool of all insured people.

A way that you can reduce the cost of a premium is by utilizing deductibles. A deductible is also known as an excess by some companies. A deductible allows you to share some of the burden by having you pay a predefined payment every year before the insurance company makes any payments. Alternatively, the fee could be for every claim on a new condition – if you broke your leg, you would need to pay a fee. If you’re sick the next day and need to see a doctor, you will need to pay another fee; this is known as a per-condition deductible. Finally, there is something called co-pay, or a co-insurance deductible. This means that instead of a predefined fee, you will have to pay a predefined percentage of the bill and the insurance company will pay the rest. While this may mean the insurance company will have to pay at least part of any bill, however on an expensive claim, you will have to pay a larger portion. All three types of deductibles have pros and cons and it is worth considering them all in order to find out which one best suits your health and financial situation.

The Dubai Health Card also operates on a per-condition type deductible where you pay a specific amount for every condition, however prices for expat Health Card holders are typically higher. Sometimes, these amounts can be high, especially for the less common treatments, and some treatments may not be covered at all.

The Health Card in Dubai is increasingly becoming less useful in terms of providing subsidized medical treatment. With rising costs of Dubai healthcare and the direction of which the Dubai government is taking foreign health laws, acquiring some sort of health insurance is a smart move, prior to moving to Dubai. Medical insurance protects the expat from potentially exuberant costs of healthcare and ensures that the expat is adequately taken care of. Start your search for local or international health insurance by searching through the internet and speaking with an expert.

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