This summer, the State of Qatar launched Stage 1 of its National Health Insurance Scheme. The goal of the Scheme is that by 2015, the nation will have universal health coverage; offering both public and private-sector care to citizens, non-nationals, and even temporary visitors. The National Health Insurance Scheme will be implemented in stages. In July 2013, the first stage came into effect, offering maternity and women’s health care coverage to all Qatari women aged 12 and above.
So, what does the National Health Insurance Scheme mean for women in Qatar? At the moment, the Scheme applies only to a small network of private hospitals, but in upcoming months, women will be able to go to any doctor, public or private, and receive maternity, obstetrics or gynecological care for free, simply by presenting a Qatar ID card. Before July 2013, women’s and other health care services could be obtained for free at a public hospital, but with the new Scheme, private care will be covered by government-mandated, universal insurance as well.
The National Health Strategy of Qatar has already reported promising results of the Scheme. On the first day of the Health Insurance launch, 60 women visited the four designated facilities to receive free medical care; one woman even gave birth, with all expenses covered by the government. By September, the Supreme Council of Health was reporting that nearly 5,000 women had taken advantage of the newly offered health services, and that three additional hospitals had joined the network of care.
Press releases and media reports from Qatar indicate that women have, overall, been very satisfied with the results of Stage 1 of the National Health Insurance Scheme. A representative from the National Health Strategy spoke with one patient, Elham Hussein, who tried out the new Scheme at the Al Ahli Hospital in Doha. Hussein said that although she had gone to hospital unsure if she would be admitted for free, simply by showing her ID card, she was pleasantly surprised when the visit went smoothly and she was able to receive fully covered care.
Along with offering coverage for women’s health care, the National Health Strategy is also using Stage 1 of the Scheme to start up a Maternity Management Programme. The program represents another benefit for Qatari women who are pregnant or have recently given birth. At the heart of this maternity program is a call center dedicated to providing information, advice and counsel to women with maternity-related questions. The call line might, for example, offer guidance on how to manage diet while pregnant, especially if the mother-to-be already struggles with diabetes or hypoglycemia. Acting CEO of the Qatar National Health Insurance Company, Dr. Faleh Mohamed Hussain Ali has called the program a success, due to the large amount of calls that the center receives. Many women have been in touch with trained call center representatives and nurses, usually with concerns about what health symptoms are normal during pregnancy, and what symptoms might warrant a visit to the doctor. Once contacted, a call center representative will also re-contact the mother after her child is born, to answer any questions the new parents might have about newborn care and to discuss potential issues with post-natal depression.
The Health Insurance Scheme is largely funded by private companies in Qatar, thanks to a new law mandating that private employers cover the cost of insurance for all employees, both local and expat. Some critics of the Scheme have pointed out that shifting health insurance costs to employers in the private sector might lead to salary losses for employees, although the business coverage law does say that managers are not allowed to financially penalize a worker’s salary in order to fund these new insurance costs.
Besides a desire to create a healthier populace, Qatar’s new universal health plan came about due to wider financial concerns. In 2011, the nation spent around $3.3 billion in health care expenditures, an increase of more than 25 percent compared to expenditures in 2010. The government is hoping that it can rein in some of those costs by asking private businesses to share in the financial responsibility of keeping Qatar healthy; especially seeing as many private firms employ low-wage foreign workers who are in the country without health insurance. There is also evidence that the private insurance market will grow economically following implementation of the Health Insurance Scheme, and of course, supporters of universal coverage say that better health care for the nation will mean better financial growth in the long run.
In order to help the Health Insurance Scheme get off to a good start, Qatar’s National Health Strategy has sought assistance from the health care solutions company Aetna. With experience in health management throughout the United States and around the world, Aetna will assist with case management techniques, coverage enrollment, financial claims and a range of other administrative services.
Stage 1 of the Qatar Health Insurance Scheme gives coverage to women only, and only to care related to maternity, gynecology and obstetrics. In upcoming Scheme stages, however, the range of eligible patients and services covered by the Insurance Scheme will increase. In 2014, both men and women will be able to access services (including dental care, cardiology care and so on) in a select provider network. That network is set to expand to include more doctors and hospitals starting later that year, and by 2015, the government hopes that all Qatari nationals, expatriate workers and visitors to the country will have access to universal health care.