All residents of Qatar will have health insurance by next year after the country’s national Seha scheme is extended to expats, senior health officials have said.
Foreigners living in Qatar and visitors to the country were initially supposed to be covered by the plan this year. But currently, Seha, which launched in August 2013, only covers the local Qatari population.
Under the original plan, white-collar workers would have been the first to get on Seha, followed by blue-collar employees and then domestic staff.
However, issues with the existing scheme such overcrowding and long waiting times to see doctors have led to delays in the program.
Under the latest plans, all non-Qatari residents will be brought under the scheme at the same time, starting next year.
Public health minister Abdullah bin Khalid Al-Qahtani announced the new time frame yesterday, although he did not give more specific details about when next year the new phase would begin.
The inclusion of lower-income, blue-collar workers in Seha will be timed to coincide with the launch of three new hospitals for laborers that are currently under construction, Gulf Times reports.
The hospitals will be in Ras Laffan, Mesaieed and the Industrial City. According to the Supreme Council of Health’s 2014 annual report, they are set to open sometime in 2016, a year later than the SCH previously said in a 2012 annual report.
While Qataris’ health insurance is paid for by the government under the National Health Insurance Co., employers will need to cover the costs of their expat workers.
Officials have previously said companies cannot take health costs out of employee salaries, and that they should make arrangements with private insurers.
Additionally, domestic workers are to be provided with medical insurance by their sponsors, despite a recommendation from the Advisory Council that household help be added to the “family members” category, so that Qataris would not have to pay for them.
Al Qahtani is quoted by Qatar Tribune as saying that different packages of coverage will be set depending on a foreigner’s job description.
“The package will be decided by the category of the job, for example a farmer or an engineer. So there will be groups and the basic package will depend on the group’s needs and the pricing will be according to that package,” the minister said.
Details of the packages, costs and coverage are all still being discussed by a committee set up by the government that will “advise on the scope, but not the decision making,” the minister said.
Visitors would be covered only for emergency treatment, he added.
While nationals can continue to use their Qatar ID cards to access health services, expats will be given cards by their individual private insurers.
Hamad medical cards will be accepted in the initial stages of the scheme’s widened scope, but it is understood that these will eventually be phased out.
In the 15 months since the scheme began, Seha has paid out nearly QR1.3 billion for patient care, and has rejected QR317 million in claims from private providers, the minister said.
He maintained that the program has a robust structure to identify and tackle potential fraud, adding that two expats were recently arrested after using a Qatari’s ID card to seek treatment at private clinics.
Additionally, an unnamed clinic was also suspended after it was found to have submitted false invoices, and QR5 million was recovered from it, he said.
All treatment prices under Seha are set by the SCH and are standard across all clinics and hospitals, regardless of whether they are public or private.
What is Seha?
The new program of comprehensive health insurance known as Seha (“health”) was introduced under Law No. 7 of 2013 on the Social Health Insurance Scheme.
Initially it covered Qatari girls and women over the age of 12. Last April, its coverage was widened to include all Qatari nationals, for a range of medical treatments at more than 190 privately-run hospitals, clinics and health centers.
Previously, Qataris received free healthcare at a limited number of government-run hospitals and clinics. By allowing patients to choose their healthcare provider, Al Qahtani said the aim was to increase competition and raise standards of care.
However, many private clinics and hospitals have been struggling to cope with the increased demand from thousands of new patients.
In the 18 months since Seha was first launched, it has dealt with more than 1 million visits from patients, NHIC acting CEO Dr. Faleh Mohamed Hussain Ali said earlier this year.
With an estimated Qatari population of around 300,000, this equates to more than three visits per national.
At the time, Ali said the roll-out of the scheme to expats would be delayed until at least late next year while issues over long waiting times were ironed out.
While many expats receive private health insurance as part of their salary package from their employer, lower-income workers do not and so rely on state-funded Hamad Medical Corp. hospitals and clinics for treatment.
As the population has soared in recent years, this has put the state’s health facilities under increasing pressure.