Govt health in­sur­ance for ex­pats to stop in three years?

In­sur­ance hos­pi­tals, pri­vate sec­tor to cover for­eign­ers’ treat­ment

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Ah­mad Jabr

KUWAIT: Nearly 3 mil­lion ex­pa­tri­ates may face dif­fi­cult health­care chal­lenges in three years’ time un­der a pro­posed gov­ern­ment plan to close ac­cess to pub­lic health ser­vices. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials re­cently sug­gested that a timetable has been es­tab­lished for the cre­ation of ex­pat-only hos­pi­tals ac­ces­si­ble by higher-cost pri­vate health in­sur­ance. The shift would cre­ate a cas­cade of con­se­quences for ex­pa­tri­ates and cit­i­zens in Kuwait as well as the lo­cal pub­lic and pri­vate health sec­tor.

Plans on pa­per

The Health Min­istry is al­ready making plans for a pos­si­ble even­tual ban on ex­pats us­ing pub­lic health fa­cil­i­ties. “There are two cat­e­gories of ex­pa­tri­ates in Kuwait,” said Dr Khaled Al-Sehlawi, the min­istry’s un­der­sec­re­tary was quoted in a lo­cal Ara­bic daily yes­ter­day. “The first in­cludes nearly 2 mil­lion for­eign­ers work­ing in the pri­vate sec­tor. If the cur­rent health in­sur­ance is can­celed, they will be treated at the health in­sur­ance hos­pi­tals that will be built within three years.” Al­ready there are plans in the works to es­tab­lish ex­pat-only hos­pi­tals. In 2014, the gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished a share­hold­ing com­pany to build three 700-bed hos­pi­tals and 15 poly­clin­ics to pro­vide in­te­grated med­i­cal ser­vices to for­eign­ers in Kuwait. The com­pany was es­tab­lished ac­cord­ing to the pub­lic-pri­vate-part­ner­ship (PPP) model with a KD 230 mil­lion cap­i­tal. The gov­ern­ment owns 24 per­cent of the com­pany’s shares, while 26 per­cent are owned by strate­gic in­vestor, Arabi Hold­ing Group. The re­main­ing 50 per­cent will be of­fered in an ini­tial pub­lic offering. A sec­ond class of for­eign­ers, those who work in the pub­lic sec­tor as well as do­mes­tic ser­vants, will pos­si­bly fall un­der an al­ter­na­tive health plan. This group, ap­prox­i­mately 1 mil­lion for­eign­ers in Kuwait fall into this cat­e­gory, would be treated in pri­vate med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties. The ex­act mech­a­nism for pro­vid­ing them health in­sur­ance cov­er­age, how­ever, is un­clear. Last week’s news also raised ques­tions re­gard­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity of the pri­vate health sec­tor in Kuwait to ab­sorb the large num­ber of ex­pa­tri­ates ex­pected to be shifted there once health in­sur­ance is can­celed. Sehlawi re­as­sured that the pri­vate med­i­cal sec­tor is‘well pre­pared’for that task.

Timetable

The three-year timetable that Sehlawi men­tioned seems to give an in­di­ca­tion of when the gov­ern­ment might se­ri­ously con­sider clos­ing ac­cess to the pub­lic health ser­vices to ex­pa­tri­ates. When the new hos­pi­tals are es­tab­lished, ex­pa­tri­ates’ an­nual health in­sur­ance fee is ex­pected to triple to not less than KD 150 com­pared to the cur­rent KD 50. Fur­ther­more, the cur­rent plan in­di­cates that for­eign­ers will have to pur­chase the health in­sur­ance pol­icy from the same com­pany in or­der to have ac­cess to med­i­cal ser­vices at the three hos­pi­tals, un­less plans change. Whether buy­ing this spe­cific pol­icy would be manda­tory or ex­pa­tri­ates would be given the choice to pur­chase poli­cies from other in­sur­ance com­pa­nies is not yet known.

The re­cent devel­op­ments come as the cab­i­net has re­port­edly as­signed the fi­nance min­istry, oil min­istry, commerce min­istry, Gen­eral Sec­re­tariat of the Supreme Coun­cil for Plan­ning and De­vel­op­ment, Fatwa and Leg­is­la­tion Depart­ment and the pri­va­ti­za­tion bureau to study a rec­om­men­da­tion made by the Supreme Coun­cil for Plan­ning and De­vel­op­ment (SCPD) to can­cel sub­si­diza­tion of health ser­vices for ex­pa­tri­ates.

The rec­om­men­da­tion came in a re­cent study for the SCPD on ways to re­duce the gov­ern­ment bud­get in light of the drop in oil in­ter­na­tional prices. The re­port has de­scribed ex­pats’ health in­sur­ance as ‘harm­ful sub­si­dies’ to the state bud­get, and sug­gested im­i­tat­ing an ex­am­ple fol­lowed in the 1990s when the Kuwaiti gov­ern­ment scrapped free ed­u­ca­tion for ex­pa­tri­ates, thus ban­ning for­eign­ers from study­ing at pub­lic schools and forc­ing them to en­roll in pri­vate schools.

The ac­tion led to a boom in the pri­vate sec­tor and the sky­rock­et­ing of pri­vate school tu­ition fees. The con­se­quence of this, how­ever, im­pacted both lo­cals and ex­pats as many cit­i­zens also send their chil­dren to Kuwait’s pri­vate schools.

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