With reporting from Elysia Windrum
Almost 38,000 Qatari nationals used the new health insurance plan offered by the government last month – nearly double the number of citizens since the Seha scheme was introduced last July.
Seha, which provides free care for basic health needs at most of the country’s major hospitals and medical clinics, was rolled out to all Qatari nationals at the end of April.
Previously, nationals could only easily access free care at public healthcare centers. Now, as more citizens avail themselves of private services, many popular clinics are facing strain due to patient overload, managers and customers have said.
Dr. Islam Zakaria, manager of Doha Clinic, told Doha News that the hospital has seen a “vast increase” in the number of Qatari patients coming through its doors.
“The new scheme has affected our planning, and we have had to adapt in many ways, by hiring more staff to deal with the increase of patients. Our prices are also being studied and adjusted.
There are positives and negatives to the new scheme, but the staff are trying their best to serve all of the patients efficiently as well as deal with the structural changes.”
The inclusion of all Qataris under the insurance plan represents Phase 2 of Seha. In the first phase, the scheme was restricted to Qatari women aged 12 years old and above, who received free services in gynecology, obstetrics, maternity and other women-related health issues from eight service providers.
Now, some 16 clinics and hospitals are covered, including all state hospitals, as well as private facilities Al Ahli, Al Emadi, and Doha Clinic, and numerous polyclinics.
Seha is expected to be offered to all residents, including expats, by next year. This will mean that everyone in Qatar would be able to choose between public or private healthcare facilities at no additional cost.
Under the new healthcare law passed last year, the government has agreed to pay for the healthcare needs of its citizens, while employers would be required to cover insurance premiums for expats.
Pressure on clinics
Despite the increase in providers from eight to 16 over the past few months, some clinics are apparently struggling to deal with the additional pressure on their services.
On Twitter, some residents are reporting lengthy queues at many private healthcare centers:
This apparent overloading of some clinics and hospitals was acknowledged by Dr. Faleh Mohamed Hussain Ali, acting CEO of Seha, at a press conference in April.
He told Doha News at that time that he felt some providers had simply failed to prepare properly for the change:
“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.”
However, as more Qataris flock to private clinics, there appears to have been a simultaneous reduction in demand at services at some public healthcare facilities.
Hamad Medical Corp. has not yet responded to a request for comment on this issue, but one patient noted today that her local government-run primary care center is now noticeably more quiet:
— Amina (@AminaAli1) June 15, 2014
What has your experience been like while seeking medical treatment here? Thoughts?