Kuwait inches closer to expat only hospitals
Kuwait’s plan to achieve complete nationality-based segregation at its medical facilities is on track, with the first steps set to take place early next year when clinics run by a medical insurance company will begin offering services exclusively for expatriates.
In addition to the 15 clinics that will be spread across Kuwait, the Health Insurance Hospitals Company, a public shareholding firm for health insurance established in accordance with a decision by the Cabinet, will provide medical care for expatriates through three hospitals to be officially opened by late 2019, CEO Dr Ahmad Al-Saleh said during a conference sponsored by the health ministry.
When those hospitals become operational, the plan is to prohibit expats from receiving medical attention at public hospitals and clinics, making access to those facilities - where services are mostly offered free of charge - exclusive to Kuwaiti citizens. This step also comes at an additional cost for foreigners. Once the new company takes over the duties of offering health services to expats from the health ministry, expats’ annual health insurance fees will increase to KD 130, Saleh confirmed, without giving an exact date for its implementation.
At present, expatriates must pay KD 50 per year for health insurance before they can renew their residencies. This allows them basic services in the public healthcare system including polyclinics and government hospitals. Expatriates are also required to pay additional fees for a variety of medical procedures, especially surgeries, hospital stays and radiology examinations. Expatriates also pay KD 1 for each visit to public clinics and KD 2 to casualty sections at hospitals.
Under the ministry of health’s law No. 1/1999 pertaining with health insurance for foreigners, obtaining medical insurance is obligatory in order to issue or renew a resident’s visa. Therefore, the KD 130 insurance fee will become mandatory according to the same law. There has been debate in the past that the government should give expats the choice of buying health insurance plans from private insurance companies.
The Health Insurance Hospitals Company was established according to the public-private-partnership (PPP) model with a KD 230 million capital, and the government owns 24 percent of its shares, while 26 percent is owned by strategic investor Arabi Holding Group. The remaining 50 percent will be offered in an initial public offering at a later date.
Furthermore, most expats are likely not going to find the option of buying insurance policies from private companies financially feasible as well. The average monthly salary for expat workers in the private sector is KD 255 according to official statistics, while the minimum average cost for private health insurance in Kuwait reaches KD 140 a year, and goes up the older the buyer is.
The idea to establish expat-exclusive hospitals came after the government decided it was the best solution to the problem of its heavily overcrowded public medical facilities. The current health sector’s capacity is 7,000 beds in public hospitals and 1,000 in private hospitals, with an average of three beds for every 10,000 in Kuwait, Dr Mohammad Al-Khashti, the ministry of health’s assistant undersecretary for private medical services, said during the launch of the 2nd Kuwait Conference for Insurance and Investment in the Health Sector on Tuesday. The ministry hopes to increase the capacity to 15,000 by 2020, he added. The ministry is also expected later this year to open the Jaber Hospital a nearly 1,200-bed public hospital billed as the largest hospital in the Middle East - which will be exclusively for Kuwaitis.
Meanwhile, the three planned hospitals for expatriates will have a bed capacity of 700 each, and will be built in Ahmadi, Jahra and Farwaniya governorates. They will serve only around two million expatriates working in the private sector, while non-Kuwaiti public sector employees and domestic helpers (nearly one million) are either going to continue to be treated at public hospitals or through an alternative health plan, likely at private medical facilities via a mechanism to be decided later.