The fact that the majority of the population in the United Arab Emirates consists of expatriates means the government must deal with some unique issues in setting a national health care policy.  Over the past several years, one can visibly see a shift in policies pertaining to health insurance as the government aims to better regulate and protect residents and tourists.

Many countries do not allow travelers to enter unless they have proper health insurance. Although rules and policies are somewhat flexible in most of the emirates of the UAE, Abu Dhabi explicitly does not permit foreign nationals to enter unless they carry a comprehensive plan from a licensed provider. Nationalities that obtain visas on arrival are exempt from this rule. Dubai was said to have followed suit, but the 2008 recession made them postpone the process. Historically speaking though, the government has always stressed the importance of getting insured so much so that it is now mandatory to obtain a health card while applying for a residence visa.

Private insurance plans are usually costlier than the government’s health card, though the former could not be used in public hospitals previously. However, according to a recent news report published in the Khaleej Times: “Residents medically covered by any insurance provider will soon have access to government hospitals and health centres in Dubai, as per a senior health official. The Dubai Health Authority is in the process of allowing residents to use their insurance cards in its hospitals and centres to access a number of health services.” This step also marks the initiation of a process which will see the long stalled compulsory health insurance scheme rolled out by the end of 2013.

Most of the companies hiring expats or locals alike offer private medical insurance, but if you are thinking of looking for a personal health plan there are a number of issues that need to be looked into before making a decision.

Ask yourself: what exactly are you looking for? Keep in mind that treatment, services and benefits as well as policies vary from one insurance provider to another. The idea behind any health policy is to protect you from unexpected costs. Choosing a plan based off the lowest cost is not always a good idea.

The yearly average cost of cover is around AED 2,500 to 5,000 per person. Premiums vary due to a number of reasons including age, gender, medical history of the person, the assured sum, type of insurance (local or international), type of coverage (maternity, dental, etc.) and the number of people under the plan (if you are getting a policy for the entire family). Insurance cards usually come with one year validity.

It is essential to do the legwork and determine which insurance company provides plans that cover all unforeseen diseases. Ask the provider if they offer immediate assistance in case of death or permanent disability – total or partial, medical expenses for accidents and most importantly for congenital diseases. Usually the latter diseases are seldom included in health insurance policies.

According to another article: “Some companies also limit costs for a particular treatment within a calendar year, apart from having an overall annual limit for all treatments. However, it is better to avoid certain suspicious policies such as those that restrict the duration of your stay in the hospital, those that fix an upper age limit for acceptance of a scheme, and any private health policy that terminates on retirement.”

Insurance companies such as AXA, Alico, Daman and Bupa International present a wide variety of plans to suit the needs of individuals and companies alike.

Obtaining a healthcare plan is obviously a very important and prudent financial decision. It enables you to receive preventive health care such as screenings, check-ups and most importantly cover more than half of the costs of medicines. It is therefore essential to find an insurance provider and policy which best suits your needs in order to attain timely action and assistance.

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