When the Dubai Health Authority issued the mandatory health insurance law, they also introduced a set of minimum benefits that must be provided under every health insurance plan in Dubai. Part of the requirement includes preventive services such as diabetes screening.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, 1 in 12 people globally have diabetes, with the disease causing 4.9 million deaths in 2014. A very worrying trend is that 1 in 2 people with diabetes do not actually know they have it; in the Middle East and North Africa, approximately 37 million people have diabetes of which 48.6% are undiagnosed.

In the UAE, it is estimated that around 11% of the population suffers from diabetes. While this may not seem exceptionally high given that the global prevalence rate is 8%, to get an accurate comparison, one has to look at the comparative prevalence rate. This figure is calculated by assuming that every country’s population has the same age distribution. This is important because diabetes becomes more common as a person gets older, so a country with an ageing population might have a misleadingly high prevalence rate. The comparative prevalence rate, on the other hand, removes the effect of a population’s age.

The below chart shows the comparative prevalence rate in different countries according to the International Diabetes Federation:

diabetes prevalence

Unfortunately, the Middle East seems to be the undisputed leader in diabetes rates. The Dubai Health Authority’s inclusion of preventive screenings in health insurance plans is a welcome move and a good first step in tackling the problem here in the UAE.

What exactly does the Dubai Health Insurance Law cover for diabetes screening? It allows policyholders to get tested for diabetes once every 3 years from the age of 30 onwards. Many insurance companies have gone a step further and now provide yearly testing starting from the age of 18. The reason? Identifying members with diabetes will allow medical insurance providers to price premiums more accurately during renewals.

Most medical plans cover the HbA1c test. This blood test provides an idea of how well your body controls blood sugar.  It is then coupled with a fasting blood sugar (FBS) exam in which your blood glucose levels are measured after having not eaten for at least 8 hours.

While diabetes screening is a great first step, whether or not your health insurance policy covers you if you actually have the disease is a little more complicated. Diabetes can fall under pre-existing or chronic conditions. In both cases, there is usually a waiting period of 6 months before the disease is covered. In addition, there could be limits and co-payments applicable on medicine used to treat chronic conditions.

In the UAE, it is estimated that there are 740,000 patients with diabetes and a further 900,000 residents who do not know they have it. The cost of treating diabetes in the country was AED 732 million in 2014.

Even though any assistance from health insurance companies in helping reduce the costs of diabetes treatment is more than welcome, really addressing the problem will require additional government regulation, creative employer initiatives and more policy benefits from medical insurers

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