Advancing plans to roll out universal health coverage in Qatar, the National Health Insurance Company (NHIC) has announced that phase two of its plan will take effect on April 30.
That means all Qataris will be entitled to free care for their basic health needs at most of the country’s major hospitals by the end of the month, as part of the renamed Seha (health) scheme.
Phase 1 of the plan was introduced last July, when Qatari women 12 years old and above received free services in gynecology, obstetrics, maternity and other women-related health issues from eight service providers.
They include HMC Women’s Hospital, Al Emadi Hospital, Al Ahli Hospital, Doha Clinic, Al Wakra Hospital, Al Khor Hospital, the Cuban Hospital and Al Hayat Hospital.
Officials have previously said the scheme would be rolled out in five stages, with expats being covered by 2015. Under the new healthcare law passed last year, the government would pay for the healthcare needs of its citizens, while employers would be required to cover insurance premiums for foreigners.
Struggling to keep up
Before Seha, Qataris without insurance were given certain types of free care only at government hospitals, but can now avail themselves of services at many private institutions.
Of the 90,000 Qatari women who were granted health coverage last summer, some 30,000 used the new insurance by January 2014, according to the latest figures available. It is not clear how many Qataris would be insured under Phase 2, though rough estimates put the national population at around 278,000 people.
The influx of thousands of new patients is expected to prove difficult for many providers, according to Dr. Faleh Mohamed Hussain Ali, acting CEO of the NHIC, who addressed reporters at a press conference yesterday.
In response to a question from Doha News about the biggest challenge facing Seha, he cited the unpreparedness of certain service providers that were “overwhelmed” by the number of people turning up during Phase 1, resulting in long queues that often left patients annoyed.
“We told them from the beginning that our base of customers is going to be the entire nation. So I think they didn’t actually do their homework properly and they were not ready to actually realize how much pressure is going to be there in the system.”
I provide, as part of the scheme, access. And I cannot control what providers can do in their hands as much as I wish to. It’s for them, its a business sense. Its business intelligence how the people work. So that was probably the major challenge.”
Despite this obstacle, 84 percent of female respondents to a recent survey by the Ministry of Development and Planning Statistics (MDPS) on behalf of the NHIC stated that the scheme had met or exceeded their expectations.
Faleh also fielded a question about a moratorium on price hikes at private clinics and hospitals, which the Supreme Council of Health (SCH) instituted last year so that companies didn’t take advantage of the new demand.
Speaking to Doha News, he said that after the second phase was introduced, the SCH may consider lifting the price freeze “within the next month or so.”
But providers who have signed up with the new health scheme must adhere to the fee structure set up by the NHIC, the Peninsula reports him as saying.
Qataris will be automatically enrolled in Seha, and only need to present their Qatari ID to avail themselves of health insurance.
Coverage extends to inpatient and outpatient services including preventive care, emergency treatment,physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, long-term care, radiology, ophthalmology, laboratory testing and prescription medicines.
Exceptions to coverage include cosmetic surgery and a list of other medical services, which are listed on Seha’s website here.
More providers may be added to the Seha network in the coming months, officials said.
Dates for the final phases of the NHIC’s plan, to insure white-collar expats, and then blue-collar ones, have not yet been set. However, any resident with questions can pose them to the NHIC on Twitter or Facebook.