Room for more growth in expanding GCC health insurance market

Though the health insurance market continues to expand in the Middle East, there is still much room for growth, which experts in the field say won't happen until change occurs at the government level.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia are two of the fastest growing markets for health insurance in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in part, because of universal health care legislation.

“Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have grown tremendously over the past few years, given swift universal health care coverage legislation over the past decade; however, I sternly believe that both Qatar and Kuwait have the capacity to grow at a faster rate given the most recent legislation,” Dr. Mussaad Al-Razouki, chief business development officer of Kuwait Life Sciences, told Gulf News Journal recently.

Qatar’s capacity to grow, however, has been temporarily stymied.

In 2013, the government of Qatar began plans to enact a countrywide, mandatory health insurance program. That program was suspended indefinitely in December. Qatari nationals must now purchase insurance from the private sector if they wish to remain insured.

Meanwhile, Kuwait has taken major steps toward universal health insurance, Al-Razouki said. The country’s minister of health recently allowed an expansion of health insurance coverage.

“This is especially apparent in Kuwait, whereby the government has launched two very important initiatives aimed at developing a more sustainable economic model for the Kuwaiti health care system," Al-Razouki said.

Those initiatives are the Kuwait Health Assurance Company and insurance for retirees.

The Kuwait Health Assurance Company is a public-private partnership, with paid capital between the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Finance, the Kuwait Investment Authority and the private sector. The entities have worked together to establish a health organization with three 250-bed hospitals, 10 clinics and a single-day surgery center, Al-Razouki said.

In order to continue to grow the health insurance market in the Middle East, Al-Razouki said regulators should encourage investors to focus on the niche areas of health care.

“GCC regulators should be more supportive of companies that specialize in one specific sector of the insurance market, as this is the trend internationally,” Al-Razouki said. “GCC governments must also look to the private sector to find new models of health system finance to balance the burden on the local health care economy.”

Health insurance is becoming more appealing to individuals, due in part to new technologies created by private insurance providers.

Two notable examples of this technology include AbiDoc in Kuwait and SihaTech in Saudi Arabia, Al-Razouki, who has long history of promoting health insurance in the Middle East, said. The platforms allow patients to use predetermined parameters to research health issues and book appointments with physicians themselves – cutting out the middleman.

The reasons to invest in health care are simple, Al-Razouki  said, at both the corporate and the individual level.

“The healthy cover the sick, the young cover the wise and the lucky cover the unlucky,” he said. “The larger the risk pool, the lower the shared risk. This is why governments around the world are promoting universal health coverage. Contributing a little money now to save a lot of money later on in life, or when you are unfortunate enough to get into an accident or contract an iatrogenic disease is a concept that is important to understand for any person not covered by health insurance.”

Organizations in this story

Government of Qatar Doha, Qatar Doha, Doha

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