Should tourists have to buy health insurance?

Egypt and Oman are looking to make all tourists buy health insurance, but Ecuador is reversing the rule.

An increasing number of countries have or are planning to make it compulsory for all tourists to buy health insurance locally. There is rarely any exclusion for medical travellers, however no current compulsory policy will pay for planned medical treatment.

The debate on imposing mandatory insurance has been elevated recently, after UK global travel firm Thomas Cook announced the withdrawal of all its customers from a hotel in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, Egypt, after the death of two British tourists and reports of a raised level of illness among guests. There have also been repeated incidents involving individual tourists from other Asian, African and Arab countries.

In Oman, the plan is for all visitors to buy health insurance, and those without insurance may be forced to buy cover at border posts. Since Oman is actively seeking to increase its tourism, this plan may be shelved so that it doesn’t put off potential visitors.

Egypt is preparing to implement the first compulsory insurance law for tourists, to boost confidence in Egypt as a destination. The mandatory insurance policy will cover the risk of personal accident, death and total disability, as well as medical treatment expenses while the tourist is in the country.

Egypt’s Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) is carrying out an actuarial study that includes data on the numbers of foreign tourists and the types of accidents they have experienced in past years. The actuarial study will be completed soon, depending on the data obtained by the Authority from the Ministry of Tourism and Interior and the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics. This is to be used to determine the value of premiums and collection methods.

The study includes the possibility of contracting with a global insurance company to provide the compulsory insurance through a tender by the FRA, as well as the possibility of treating tourists through the Egyptian health insurance law in public or private hospitals.

Ecuador is instead reversing its mandatory health insurance. Foreign tourists entering the country now no longer need to take out health insurance, according to new law that came into effect in August 2018. Through the elimination of health insurance, the ministry of tourism says they are seeking to maintain the country’s tourism competitiveness without increasing costs for the people who go to Ecuador. The government is increasing its support for the inbound tourism industry of the country.