A resolution by the council of ministers in Saudi Arabia will affect all advisers who have clients in...
This law is designed to provide quality private health services for expatriate workers and alleviate the burden from the public hospitals and associated medical organisations.
This new regulation requires employers to provide basic healthcare services through insurance for expatriate workers and their families. The issue and renewal of the employee's residence permit will require qualified health insurance to be current.
The healthcare services that must be provided under the new laws include: Primary care, including diagnosis and prescription of medication. Preventative procedures such as annual check-ups. Maternity cover. Pediatrics. All hospital inpatient care, including surgery. Dentistry and treatment of gum disease.
The full details of the basic levels of cover have not been confirmed and will be announced later in 2000. The approach is likely to reshape the healthcare industry in Saudi Arabia.
There are currently 6.5 million expatriates in Saudi Arabia - a third of the total 18 million population. Five million of these are uninsured. Due to the large number of those uninsured, the government is currently injecting approximately £2bn annually into the healthcare sector - 8% of the kingdom's GDP. The Saudi government believes the new laws will alleviate the pressures on the public health service.
More than 80 insurance companies compete in the kingdom's ever-growing health insurance market. In 1998, health insurance subscriptions amounted to more than £112m. The health insurance sector achieved an impressive growth rate of more than 30%.
Experts in the sector estimate that due to the new mandatory law, the size of the market will increase substantially to between £1bn and £1.8bn pa.
Several leading businessmen in the kingdom have expressed their support of this new health insurance law. Senior figures in the insurance sector have expressed the need for a commercial approach to allow an open market to develop within a framework which helps the government achieve its goals.
Ministry of health officials welcomed the government of King Fahad's decision stating that this move, supporting the private sector, will give insurance companies a major role and the responsibility to establish health insurance systems and procedures and offer services, supervision and follow-up.
The council of ministers also approved the formation of a co-operative insurance council represented by deputy ministers from the ministry of interior, ministry of health, ministry of labour and social affairs, ministry of finance and national economy to supervise the regulations and develop the by-laws that are required.
In addition to the government representation, members from Saudi chambers of commerce and co-operative insurance companies and representatives from the private sector will have seats on the new council.
The council will oversee the implementation of the new law for mandatory health insurance and provide guidelines for the execution process such as implementation stages, minimum product specifications, and qualifications of health insurance companies and providers. The council's revenues will come from qualification fees levied on insurers and hospitals.
Of course, options differ from country to country and, in the main, clients should not have to rely exclusively on local state healthcare systems. Many are complex and bureaucratic. Many more may not offer the quality or range of treatments the client could expect from hospitals and health services in the their homeland.
The wisest move, therefore, is to assess the range of comprehensive private medical insurance plans on the market. The key things to cover should include the costs of hospital accommodation; fees for specialists; inpatient charges (such as X-rays, drugs and dressings); outpatient consultations and treatments. Increasingly, however, alternative medicine is also being offered as part of the cover (see table above).
In some countries, it is prudent to have additional cover for private primary care (GP) consultations. Some insurers will also suggest additional cover for routine dental, optical and maternity care.
Another important consideration should be evacuation cover. After all, the last thing a person needs is to be stranded with an illness or injury in a country where the medical facilities are unable to cope.
A number of specialist companies provide the evacuation service. The best ones offer much more than just air transport away from remote areas to the site of the nearest, suitably-equipped hospital. Usually, a person should expect a service where they are never more than a telephone call away from multilingual help. Specialist advisers are on hand to advise individuals on the best course of action to take - whatever the emergency.
Jon-Paul Clarke is business communications executive at BUPA International
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