Mandatory insurance threatens UAE outbound medical travel

Health insurance will be mandatory in all emirates by 31 March 2023 and this will impact domestic and outbound medical tourism, says IMTJ analyst Ian Youngman.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven states. The seven emirates that make up the UAE maintain a large degree of independence:

  • Abu Dhabi
  • Ajman
  • Dubai
  • Fujairah
  • Ras al Khaimah
  • Sharjah
  • Umm al Quwain

Currently, among the seven emirates, medical insurance is compulsory only in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The Emirates Insurance Association (EIA) has stated that making health insurance compulsory in all of the emirates will increase total written premiums, which are expected to reach US$13.6 million in 2023.

There are regulations and laws in force in the insurance sector, which are being updated in coordination and cooperation with the UAE Central Bank, and that would accelerate the pace of digital transformation and facilitate the provision of services.

The health authorities in the UAE, including the Ministry of Health and Community Protection, and the private sector, including operating insurance companies and accredited health centres, will be linking medical records on a digital healthcare platform approved by all service providers.

The linking process is expected to be completed in the middle of 2023. The digital platform facilitates the exchange of medical information collected by healthcare facilities as well as insurance companies that provide medical cover. It centralises information about a patient and the treatment that they undergo, regardless of the place or time of the provision of the healthcare.

Cooperation and coordination between health insurers and the Central Bank is said to be proceeding at a rapid pace, including tackling issues related to health insurance; discussing possible solutions to the high cost of healthcare in general; and the necessity of adopting a tariff system governing medical treatment costs.

The five states will use a system similar to that in Abu Dhabi and Dubai where it is compulsory for all citizens and resident expatriates to have health insurance either bought via their employer or direct. The basic cover will be agreed and that is the cover that health insurers can offer to companies and individuals in completion.

The Abu Dhabi and Dubai systems are geared to treatment only within the UAE.  As healthcare has improved locally, the drivers for insurance paid treatment outside of the UEA are reducing.

Though the rules for the five extra UAE states have not been finalised, to meet the deadline it is almost certain that each state will use a carbon copy of the Abu Dhabi and Dubai systems, so only allowing treatment within the UAE.

For medical tourism this will increase domestic UAE medical tourism, so mostly going to Dubai with some going to Abu Dhabi. It will decrease outbound medical tourism from the UAE.