Sudden closure of Qatari national health insurance scheme

Qataris left high and dry after sudden closure of national health insurance scheme, with no interim health insurance arrangements. Locals must buy private care and/or private health insurance.

In a sudden shock move, the government of Qatar shut down the national health insurance scheme at the end of 2015, telling locals that they must buy private care and/or private health insurance.

The government decided to end the health insurance service provided through the National Health Insurance Company (NHIC) and entrust it with private insurance companies- all within December and from 31-12-2015.

Tenders from health insurers will be invited. The assessment of bids, selection of the insurers and signing of contracts will be completed in May.

Health insurance services for citizens will be provided without any additional burden on them, and the Supreme Council of Health plans to agree with one or more insurers a deal to provide health insurance services to citizens-by June 2016.

The Council did not specify any interim health insurance arrangement for citizens in the intervening period until 1 June. It remains unclear how Qataris’ medical bills will be paid for from January 1 2016 to the time that their new private insurance takes effect.

Citizens who were admitted in private hospitals before the cut-off date (31 December 2015) will continue to get insurance cover until they are discharged after completing the required treatment.

The NHIC is a government-owned entity that manages and operates Seha, the national health insurance scheme in Qatar. The scheme provides mandatory health insurance coverage through a network of public and private clinics and hospitals.

  1. Stage 1 of the scheme was launched in July 2013, covering Qatari females aged 12 and above for gynaecology, obstetrics, maternity and related women’s health conditions.
  2. The second stage came into force on April 30, 2014 and provides comprehensive insurance coverage to all Qatari nationals for their basic health care needs.
  3. The third and last phase of the scheme for all residents and visitors was scheduled for 2016 but there were already hints that all these non-citizens would be expected to buy compulsory health insurance, as NHIC could not cope with more customers.

Qatari nationals could access medical treatment at a range of private clinics, hospitals, health centres, opticians and other service providers across the country that had signed on to take part in the system. The government picked up the bill for Qataris. With medical treatment given more than 1 million times under Seha, and an estimated Qatari population of around 300,000, this equates to more than three visits per person.

In the 15 months from August 2013, Seha paid out QAR1.3 billion (US$357 million) for patient care. Before Seha, Qataris could only get free treatment at a limited number of state-run hospitals and clinics. But many went to private hospitals and clinics under Seha. A major reason for NHIC problems was that hospitals and doctors saw it as a cash cow for fraud and overcharging.

The Council have not given any believable reason for suddenly abandoning its own citizens. With oil prices plummeting Qatar is being cautious on spending-particularly, as the World Cup is increasingly unlikely to ever happen here. Qatar expects the first budget deficit in 15 years, in 2016-despite cancellation of major projects.

There was no thought as to what would happen while Qataris looked for cover, or what happens if they are in the middle of treatment or have planned treatment for 2016.

The most likely outcome will be that health insurance, paid for by individuals and. or employers, will become compulsory for Qataris and expatriates.

Where the sudden move leads any deals that countries or hospitals have with the Qatari government to treat Qataris overseas, is not known, as the big question now is, who will pay for treatment?