Healthcare costs in UAE outpace inflation by 10%

By Eudore R.Chand

Medical insurance most important to expats

DUBAI 20 December 2018: Healthcare costs rose by 10.7 per cent more than the general level of inflation in 2016, and by 9.9% in 2017.

The Willis Towers Watson 2018 Global Medical Trends Pulse Survey Report has revealed that this is almost double that of Hong Kong and 20% higher than Singapore respectively–both developed economies broadly similar in size to the UAE that also depend on expatriate workers.

Unsustainable Rate

Of this latest finding, Simon Stirzaker, Regional Leader, Health & Benefits, Al Futtaim Willis, notes: ‘Medical costs in the UAE are clearly rising at an unsustainable rate. If medical inflation continues on its current trajectory the cost of providing medical insurance benefits will become higher than payroll!

A key part of the problem is that the consumers of healthcare services – workers who are insured – tend to be disconnected from the actual cost of the services that they are using. This was shown somewhat by the recent survey, which found that 74% of employees in the UAE would like more information on the total costs that are incurred on their behalf.

  • In the UAE, 45% of expatriate (expat) workers, and a similar number of their dependents, visit doctors, clinics or hospitals at least four times a year
  • Some 65% of expat workers in the UAE would be prepared to sacrifice 1-5% of their annual salary for better medical coverage. The remaining 35% would be prepared to make a greater sacrifice
  • The importance of medical insurance to expat employees is roughly the same as the importance of life insurance, education allowance and housing allowance combined

Source: Insight Discovery research, late 2018

While they may be unsure of the costs, it is clear that these benefits matter a lot to employees. Some 44% base their decision to take a job in part on the health insurance benefits, and another 37% say that it is otherwise important to them. “Clearly, engagement of the expats themselves will be a part of the solution and an understanding of the cost of an employee’s benefit is a good start,” Stirzaker added.

To further the conversation around the UAE’s rising medical costs, Al Futtaim Willis will be seeking input from key industry observers at a Panel Discussion. The event, which will take place in Dubai in late January 2019, is entitled Building Trust and Controlling Costs in the UAE’s Healthcare Sector. The participants will include senior regulators and payers who hold the responsibility for procuring corporate health insurance.

Creating Debate

The Panel Discussion will be wide-ranging. Likely topics include the need for greater transparency of health insurance costs, increased monitoring of claims and tighter controls by regulators and other parties to explore areas where greater efficiencies can be achieved in the provision of healthcare, through the reduction of waste, abuse and fraud that is currently present in the healthcare system. The panel will also discuss new initiatives aimed at positioning the UAE as a healthcare tourist destination and attracting overseas doctors to the UAE for the long term.

The Panel Discussion will also touch on a number of potential changes discovered by Al Futtaim Willis research that could help build trust and control costs in the UAE’s healthcare sector. These include greater clarity in the legal framework governing data protection; formal training in ethics for employees of health insurance companies, insurance brokers and hospital operators; and greater Continuing Professional Development in insurers and brokers who are dealing with health insurance.

Dubai Gazette