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Monday, September 27, 2021

Fee relief for residents as Qatar indefinitely bans price hikes at private clinics, hospitals

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Amid spiraling fees at some private clinics and hospitals in Qatar, the Supreme Council of Health has put a moratorium on price hikes until its new health insurance plan is implemented.

That means prices could be frozen until the end of next year at the very earliest.

In an announcement on SCH’s website, Director of Healthcare Quality Dr. Jamal Rashid Al-Khanji says that all private healthcare facilities in Qatar – both clinics and hospitals – must stick to their existing price plans, which have been approved by the SCH, “until the completion of the application of the health insurance system.”

The only exception will be if private healthcare providers are introducing new services, but these prices must also be approved by the SCH, the directive states.

The move comes amid reports that government-funded healthcare facilities are increasingly struggling to keep up with demand from a population of almost 2 million people, the majority of whom are expats.

Local website Just Here recently reported, for example, that some of the country’s 21 primary health care centres have stopped registering expats, restricting their services to Qatari nationals only. Others are reportedly turning expats away because they are full.

Insurance scheme

Earlier this month, the Advisory (Shura) Council approved a draft health insurance law that mandates universal coverage for all residents.

The new scheme, Social Health Insurance (SHI), will shift the onus of coverage from the government to the private companies that employ Qatar’s expat population.

The SCH originally forecast that the plan would take effect by the end of 2014, but this time-frame is likely to slip, as the draft law could still undergo revisions before it meets the Emir’s approval.

The insurance scheme will be rolled out in five stages, with the first focusing on shoring up coverage for nationals. That phase could be introduced next year. However, expats’ healthcare will only be addressed in the final stage – and this could be several years away.

The draft law has its critics, with private companies suggesting that requiring them to provide insurance for employees and their families could lead to lower wage packets. It may also spur the introduction of more “bachelor contracts,” in which employees must leave their families in their home countries when they move to Qatar to work. 

Valid reasons needed

Speaking to the Peninsula, Al-Khanji said that his department had made the decision to freeze prices after receiving a high volume of “unjustified” requests to raise fees.

The (Permanent Licensing Committee) felt the need to intervene to protect the interests of customers. The SCH is not authorised to fix prices, but it can freeze them to prevent a further hike, if there is a need. Through this move, the PLC wants to send a strong message to those facilities that are trying to hike their fees without any justification.”

Al-Khanji adds that the government is keen to “standardise” healthcare in the market, reflecting a concern shared by many that some providers are over-charging:

“The insurance scheme will standardise the healthcare services and fees in the country and the decision could be reviewed once we have a clear idea about the market. Then we will be able to accurately assess who is charging more and who is charging less.” 

Private healthcare providers are also being reminded that they are now expected to clearly display the cost of the treatments that they provide, Al-Khanji added.

Here is the SCH’s directive in full:

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Has the clinic you use been raising its prices? Thoughts?

Credit: Top photo by Omar Chatriwala, document courtesy of the SCH website

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