Despite huge investments in healthcare, a growing number of Qataris are seeking treatment abroad, costing the government some $329.6 million (QR1.2bn) last year – more than double what it spent two years ago, the Peninsula reports.
In 2009, some 950 citizens sought treatment abroad to the tune of $137.3 million (QR500 million). And in 2010, Supreme Council of Health figures showed a total of $214.2 million (QR780m) was spent on nearly 3,000 citizens who traveled abroad for treatment.
According to last year’s figures, which were disclosed at a meeting of the Advisory Council, about 2,000 Qatari patients are currently undergoing treatment abroad with state support.
Where the money goes
The vast majority of overseas cases involve elective surgery, rather than emergency medical care, statistics in Qatar’s National Health Strategy (NHS) show.
The NHS, quoted in Gulf News, also states that up to 70 percent of the costs for foreign treatment are for flights and accommodation, both for the patient and for their families, who often travel with them.
A Gallup poll published in Peninsula in August this year found that 43 percent of Qataris would prefer to go abroad for treatment if they have a serious disease, despite the government’s investment in healthcare in the country.
Universal health insurance plan
Qatar spent nearly $2,000 per person on healthcare in 2011 for a total of $3.2 billion, making it the region’s highest per capita spender on the sector.
It’s planning nothing short of a health revolution next year, with a plan to introduce a law requiring everyone – citizens, residents and visitors – to have health insurance.
Under the Social Health Insurance (SHI) plan, the government will be responsible for insuring nationals while the onus of insuring expats will fall on the companies that employ them.
The Supreme Council of Health has announced that Qatari women will be the first to benefit from the insurance scheme at the beginning of next year.
SHI will be rolled out in five stages, but will focus primarily on shoring up coverage for nationals during most of this time; expats’ healthcare will only be addressed in the final stage towards the end of 2014, the draft law states.
Doubts over timeframe
However, Industry experts told the UK’s Financial Times earlier this year that they seriously doubted SHI would be introduced in the time frame stated.
They pointed to a lack of regulation of private insurance providers in Qatar, the inconsistent quality of care, and an absence of consistency in billing practices as the main reasons for a delay.
Priority to Qatari nationals
The Peninsula reports that the Advisory Council also agreed to give priority to Qataris in all healthcare services at its meeting, although they did not make clear how this will be achieved.
The Advisory Council has, however, recommended that expat-only hospitals and clinics should be built.
According to the Peninsula, three hospitals and five clinics exclusively catering to laborers are already being planned.
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