Both Qatar and Dubai are well placed to become regional insurance hubs, reports have revealed, following the creation of a Governmental partnership with Samsung Life Insurance in Dubai and the implementation of a national health insurance law in Qatar.
According to a Financial Times report, the Investment Corporation of Dubai is set to agree to a memorandum of understanding with Korea’s largest Life Insurance underwriter, Samsung Life, to deliver high quality life protection products to the Middle Eastern and North African Regions. Historically both underserved markets for life products, the ICD and Samsung intend to grow the distribution of life insurance plans across the region with a view to entering the less developed markets located in Sub-Saharan Africa.
This initiative is mirrored in Qatar, which has implemented a national healthcare reform intended to alleviate the State of the burden of healthcare costs within the local Qatari population. By 2014, Qatar’s government has stated, all individuals living within the country will have a private health insurance policy. In the case of local Qataris this will be funded by the government, however for expatriates either the expatriate themselves or their employers will be responsible for the provision of appropriate coverage.
The development of a set of comprehensive regulations for a robust Qatar health insurance scheme comes at a critical time; the country is becoming increasingly overburdened by the cost of care in its many world class medical facilities – Qatari nationals are entitled to receive free medical treatment from their government.
The system of free care for local nationals saw the country spend roughly US$ 2.6 billion in 2010, a staggering sum which is not economically viable as the local populace continues to grow off the back of an oil driven economy.
In addition to mandating coverage for all individuals and families living in the country, the Qatari government, through the Supreme Council of Health (SCH), is also considering linking tourist visas to proof of health insurance; ensuring that any holidaymaker entering the country is able to pay for their hospital bills in the event that they suffer from a serious illness or accident.
While there has been no clear indication on the proposal for a health insurance-visa link scheme, the 2014 rollout date for the Qatar national health insurance regulations does give the country enough time to test the initiative ahead of the 2018 Qatar FIFA World Cup.
Approximately 300,000 tourists journeyed to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup and similar numbers can realistically be expected to be seen in Qatar. However, this poses a major problem for the Legislature in Doha, as the local population is a relatively modest 1.7 million people. If any of the World Cup tourists were to fall ill or suffer an accident while in the country, under the current system, there would be real concerns about the loss of money in the healthcare system; a system which is already struggling under local needs as it is.
However, in a sign of good news Mark Britnell, Chairman of Global Health-KPMG, in speaking with the Gulf Times indicated that the deployment of a universal scheme will actually lower overall healthcare costs while increasing the quality of those same services. “you get efficiency and effectiveness when you start to know exactly what you’re paying for and when you’re paying for it” he said on a system involving a single non-competitive insurer.
While there has been no firm mention on whether the proposed Qatari insurance scheme would involve a single insurance provider, or operate under free market competition principles, analysts in the region believe that it is more likely that the regulation would involve a number of providers. This could have the effect of spurring Qatar forward in becoming the largest health insurance hub in the Middle East, especially if expatriates or their employers are allowed to select and purchase coverage with their choice of provider.