Picking the right UAE health insurance policy can be everything from confusing to overwhelming. The medical insurance business has become extremely competitive, with companies seeking profitability on the back of your health. And premiums can vary wildly, from several thousand dirhams for basic plans to those in the tens of thousands.
Here’s what UAE residents need to know and how experts suggest you can find your perfect plan.
UAE healthcare insurance rules
Dubai and Abu Dhabi residents are required by law to have health insurance. Those who don’t have it can face fines of Dh500 per month. You might also find your visa renewals blocked, notes an advisor for the Dubai Health Insurance Corporation.
This goes for any employees or dependents you have — including, unsurprisingly, any children. The responsibility to provide insurance sits with the visa sponsor.
Around the world, many people end up paying out of pocket for care, which means they might be sick or injured but not able to cover the treatment they need when they need it. Healthcare insurance helps protect against this.
And if you’re grumpy about the additional cost? A study from February 2017 showed a 15-minute trip to the doctor in Abu Dhabi costs about Dh177, while in Dubai it’s around Dh286. Both are still much more affordable than in the US.
UAE health insurance basics
There are entry-level plans in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The plans differ for Emiratis and expatriates.
For UAE nationals, Abu Dhabi has the Thiqa program, where the Abu Dhabi government provides full medical coverage. This involves a required Dubai Health Authority (DHA) screening to check for cardiovascular risk factors. Dubai has Saada, the health insurance program for Emiratis.
Health insurance rates can vary wildly, depending on what they cover. For expat residents, under entry-level health insurance plans, you’re covered for a maximum of Dh150,000 in Dubai and Dh250,000 in Abu Dhabi. These plans tend to be quite basic and have a limited network. Your company can provide a higher-level coverage, but isn’t required to. So if higher coverage is important to you, you may want to top it up. And if you are a freelancer, or between jobs, it’s up to you to buy it.
UAE health insurance for dependents
In Abu Dhabi, employers and sponsors are responsible for providing coverage for their employees and their families (one spouse and three children – additional children can have an extra charge). In Dubai, employers are required to provide insurance for their employees. Sponsors need to arrange coverage for their resident dependents — meaning if you’ve got kids, you’re probably paying.
As a freelancer under one of Dubai’s newer start-up initiatives (like gofreelance.ae), health insurance is required before you receive your final official documents.
UAE health insurance comparison
There are quite a few ways to find a good plan and one of the best ways to do so is to compare. The Dubai Health Authority’s Insurance System for Advancing Healthcare (ISAH) website, lists all the registered providers in the UAE. Then there’s souqalmal.com, insurancemarket.ae, compareit4me.com and bayzat.com, all which allow you to compare.
Dr Haidar Al Yousuf, director of health funding for the authority, addressed the process of comparing packages on their site isahd.ae.
“You will come across 50 insurance companies that provide health insurance choices at different rates,” he says. “Of these, nine insurance companies have been approved to dispense the Essential Basic Package.”
This affordable package, he explains, is meant for dependents and those with a salary of less than Dh4,000 per month. It does not cover pre-existing conditions for the first six months.
Another option is to go through an insurance broker like Pacific Prime. “Our advisors are there to provide free advice,” says Marta Olivotti, sales manager for the company.
“You would be safe in the knowledge that after you’ve given your requirements, our advisors would be able to give you a variety of unbiased choices so that you can find the most suitable plan.”
How to choose a UAE health insurance plan
As you’re looking at your options, keep in mind which hospitals you actually prefer to visit. Not all healthcare networks are the same. If you have a preferred clinic or doctor, check that they’re under your plan before signing up to avoid the stress of finding out they aren’t covered when you need medical attention.
Olivotti suggests asking yourself three questions.
“Which hospitals/clinics are important to me? Will this insurer increase renewal premiums based on my usage of the plan? Which benefits are built into the plan and which can be altered?”
Look at all these things before taking out a plan, she suggests. “It’s better than being unpleasantly surprised after.”
Dental and eye coverage may be worth it
Things like dental and eye care can be extra. Sometimes this isn’t such a bad thing, says Olivotti.
“Dental is a benefit that most clients would prefer to have included, without being aware that it comes at a cost. Sometimes you may find it works out to be more cost-effective to not include dental on your insurance plan and simply pay out of pocket for a chosen treatment.”
UAE health insurance for pregnancy and newborns
Married women must have maternity cover as part of their insurance plan, but the exact logistics of all of this vary considerably depending on plan.
In Dubai, every medical plan must provide cover for eight prenatal appointments, three prenatal scans, initial investigations, Dh7,000 for normal delivery or Dh10,000 for medically necessary C-section, and newborn care for up to 30 days from birth.
Certain premium policies may cover a newborn for up to three months — something that’s handy when it comes to sorting out the newborn’s documentation and filing for their individual insurance.
If you’re pregnant when taking out the policy, be prepared for potentially significantly higher fees. These can sit around Dh25,000 more.
UAE health insurance for the elderly
Prices can also vary considerably for elderly dependents. Mahmoud Gaith, a Jordanian expat, recently told Gulf News he contacted over six insurance companies to find a health package for his parents.
“Many of the companies we contacted quoted premiums starting from Dh6,000 to 8,000 per person, and once my parents’ medical history and pre-existing conditions were reviewed, it would jump to unrealistic figures. The lowest amount quoted was Dh35,000 and the highest Dh123,000.”
In the end, Gaith went for the basic health insurance option while upgrading their pre-existing global insurance package to cover the Middle East.
The higher cost of insurance for the elderly is often linked to perceived risk, explains Nishit Ramesh, consumer team leader at Bayzat.
“Insurance is all about covering risk of medical treatment, and insurers generally consider people above the age of 60 to have significantly higher risk of large medical claims, as well as frequency of treatments.”
Beware low healthcare premiums
This is Olivotti’s one big piece of advice.
“Some plans offer incredibly rich benefits at very low premium. However, these premiums can increase significantly over time,” she cautions. “Generally, if you pay a little more now, your plan should be more sustainable over time.”
There will be increases, but these will be standard medical inflation and age-related increases.
Don’t forget travel insurance
You may require additional insurance when you go abroad, depending on the geographical level of the cover you purchase. Some plans exclude cover in the US and some in Europe.
“It is possible to be covered globally, this isn’t an issue,” says Olivotti. “It all comes down to the members’ requirements.”
There are separate travel plans that are non-medical, which include things like loss of luggage, loss of passport or delayed flights — aka travel insurance. Check out WorldNomads, DnataTravel or YallaCompare for more.
Featured photo: Unsplash
Danae Mercer is a freelance health and travel journalist. In addition to working as editor-in-chief of Women's Health Middle East and Men's Health Middle East, Danae has written for The Sunday Times, CNN Travel, Dubai Tourism, The Guardian, Afar, Bloomberg and many more. She's based in Dubai and is a trainer at Crank. instagram.com/danaemercer