A senior advisor from Qatar’s top health advisory body, the Supreme Council of Health, has announced that a broad national health insurance system with universal access for both citizens and visitors will be operable within the next 3 to 4 years.
Qatar’s Supreme Council of Health (SCH) was established by an Emir decree in 2005. The Council replaced both the former National Health Authority and Ministry of Public Health of Qatar. Although the state of healthcare provision in Qatar is currently very good, there are substantial problems on the horizon. The continued evolution of hi-tech medical technology and pharmaceutical innovations coupled with increasing expectations from patients for new treatments all coupled with a growing population are putting serious stress on the financial resources and infrastructure capacity of the state’s health care sector. Currently bed occupancy rates are above average and many patients surveyed complain about waiting lines for treatment.
Assistant Secretary General for Policy, Dr Faleh Mohamed Hussain Ali, spoke to the media at the SCH headquarters on Monday:“We are drawing closer to getting the national health insurance scheme up and running and we are presently developing a plan which will lay down the upcoming implementation process in discreet and incremental stages.”
When asked whether this significant measure was introduced to close the healthcare funding gap, Dr. Faleh Ali responded: “Our aim is to present this scheme as a tool for guaranteeing quality healthcare services and not as a means only to generate revenue as there will be competitiveness between service providers to the benefits of the users.”
The status of the comprehensive health insurance legislation is progressing quickly though its formative stages. Dr. Faleh Ali added: “The draft law is ready. There are some gaps in the draft law that need to be filled, after which it will be forwarded to the Cabinet for approval.”
In accordance with the original draft law, a national statutory health insurance association will be established within the next 12 months. This body will be tasked with overseeing the compulsory health insurance scheme, collaborating closely with existing insurance companies in Qatar, handling disputes between parties, and ensuring compliance with current health promotion and policy goals. After successfully registering and maintaining accreditation with the new government body, health providers would have access to both the public and private patient networks. Exactly how this will manifest itself is yet to be worked out. Both the healthcare practices in public and private sectors as well as insurance companies’ input and co-operation will be sought out in this exchange. The SCH will continue to regulate the health system and, according to the draft law, manage the new funds allocated towards the compulsory health insurance proposal.
The new healthcare scheme will offer a minimum service package at a pre-determined affordable premium. Standards regarding quality and cost of treatment will be reviewed and made abundantly clear to both providers and patients in the public system. Certain elective procedures, such as cosmetic surgery, are not currently planned to be covered or subsidized through the new scheme. Medical fees in the private sector are also thought to be under review prior to the execution of the national insurance scheme.
The full implementation of the national health insurance scheme is projected to take three to four years. Once completed, the public insurance structure will cover all nationals and expatriates as well as visitors to Qatar. Dr. Faleh Ali explained the reason for this: “Health insurance is a social scheme, so we are going to provide minimum package to cover healthcare costs of everybody including visitors and we will ensure that the premium is also affordable.”
Dr. Faleh Ali updated the media on the direction the project was going, saying: “We have just concluded the phase one of the scheme’s time-line and plan, which included selecting the best insurance option for the country by researching the best known international and regional practices as well as held an extensive stakeholders consultation.” He then added: “We are expecting to implement the first phase of the mandatory health insurance scheme by the end of next year. It will be a pilot project, targeting particular segments of the population, which is yet to be decided.”
The pilot program will enable the SCH to micro-manage a small proportion of the potential public healthcare base, allowing them to troubleshoot any problems for the main compulsory health insurance scheme that arise.
Dr. Faleh Ali confirmed that the Supreme Council of Health is already planning further ahead: “We are in the second phase of preparations for the project which includes establishment of the Statutory Health Insurance Body” and that “[i]ntensive work in establishing all other required infrastructure and prerequisites such as quality, cost and access standards, a common coding scheme, business and IT system and communication and public relations programme of dissemination of the scheme, will soon get under way”
The Assistant Secretary General further remarked: “In three to four years we should have a scheme offering universal coverage that others will aspire to replicate.”