Health insurance is essential for you and your family if you are working in Dubai. Anyone working in Dubai should have some form of health coverage. Currently, however, there is no consistency in what is provided.
Changes Ahead in Basic Health Cover
According to labor laws, you are entitled to a health card that allows you access to a limited range of hospitals and clinics that make up the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) facilities. This is the health provision offered to workers on lower salaries. Those who earn more are able to join a health insurance scheme offered by their employers. It seems that in many ways this echoes the way of the world as those who have more get more offered to them, or can afford to opt for their own private health insurance.
However, Dubai is progressive, so it was announced at the end of 2013 that the emirate was setting up a health insurance requirement for all residents that will provide basic insurance for all. Current DHA facilities will be part of the new system, the clinics and hospitals.
This health cover will replace the health card system, and it is estimated it will cost AED 500-700 per year and provide health cover to a maximum of AED 150,000. While this will be a benefit for lower paid workers, for many people, this does not represent sufficient cover. However, the intent is that this health cover be mandatory and linked to work/resident visas. Whether or not the cost of this health insurance is the responsibility of the employer or the employee is not yet entirely clear, but as the intent is to provide consistency, it seems likely that will be the case. For well-paid employees a fee of AED 500-700 is of no significance, but for the large number of workers on very low salaries, AED 4K a month or less, it represents a big chunk of money.
Other features of the new health cover are that it is also for Emirati nationals, and there will be emergency coverage for international visitors. However, it is still in the planning stage and is not expected to be fully in place until 2016.
Health Insurance Providers and Pitfalls
Currently, if you do not have a health card, you will have health insurance provided by your employer and large companies or corporations can negotiate cost effective deals. Ideally, companies provide this health insurance as part of the salary package, but not all. It is possible to find that your employer pays a contribution and the remainder is taken out of your salary, though this is less common. It is best to check what any prospective employer is offering and who funds the health insurance costs.
Another thing to be aware of is the quality and extent of the cover as this varies considerably. For example, the coinsurance levy will depend on the quality of the cover and the deal your company has brokered. Usually, you have to pay the first AED 50-100 for each visit to a doctor. There is also a percentage payable on medications ranging from 15-20%. Dental and optical care are not usually part of the health insurance offered. But as I mentioned above, if you are a high-flyer, a more comprehensive cover may be offered to attract you.
A further significant issue is what doctors, clinics, and hospitals are part of your insurance network. Not all heath networks are created equally, and you will be given a list of the healthcare providers that are part of your plan. Unlike in many Western countries, some health insurers allow you to consult any doctor of your choice. In addition, you may be able to consult a specialist at any hospital without needing a GP’s recommendation. In this case, the above co-insurance conditions apply for all visits. So even if you visit a specialist, you will only pay AED 50-100. However, with some providers you have to get pre-approval to see a specialist. Also, you may be excluded from some hospitals that are considered expensive.
American Hospital Dubai (AHD) is one hospital that some providers are unwilling to pay for.
So it could be explicitly excluded from your policy. Alternatively, you may be able to see specialists at AHD, but only if you pay upfront and claim back later. This always makes me nervous for two reasons: Insurers find many ways to reduce the amount they will cover, and they are very slow reimbursing the money.
In my experience, Al Buhaira Insurance offers different levels of cover as part of a group scheme. The top level of health insurance cover includes everything at AHD apart from dermatology. I can see a dermatologist, but I am never certain that I will get the even part of the cost reimbursed. I suspect this is due to a suspicion that people are trying to get plastic surgery covered as a medical cost.
AXA is a prominent insurance provider in the UAE. They are the insurer of choice for all employees in one of Dubai’s large business corporations. However, the quality of the cover offered varies according to your grade in the company. When your employer is providing the cover, they decide what level of cover you get. When you are only partly covered by your employer, the options are there to select the level of cover since you will pay any extra costs.
Even if your company has an insurance provider, you can opt out as long as you are purchasing health insurance from a legitimate provider. Sometimes because of concerns about the quality of the cover or the extent of the maternity benefit, people do select a provider they are familiar with such as Cigna. Usually, this means that you pay the full cost of the cover yourself unless you are a good negotiator and manage to get exactly what you want as part of your package.
Hospitals in Dubai
It used to be that AHD was the top private hospital for maternity and any scheduled, non-emergency, procedure. The specialists are usually highly regarded, the wait to see specialists is usually tolerable, and they have excellent imaging facilities.
Welcare Hospital is another popular hospital. Both of these hospitals are now being chased by the new hospitals and clinics opening in Dubai Healthcare City. One of these, City Hospital, seems to have the best reputation currently for maternity care.
The government hospitals are not usually the first choice for expats, but both Latifa Hospital and Rashid Hospital provide excellent care despite having rather less attractive buildings than the private hospitals.