27/09/2017 06:01 AST

Oman’s Council of Ministers has approved a proposal submitted by the Capital Market Authority (CMA) setting out a strategy for the introduction of Mandatory Healthcare Insurance for private sector expatriates, effective from 2018.

An announcement to this effect was made by CMA Executive President Abdullah bin Salim al Salmi (pictured) at the opening of the 11th Middle East Healthcare Insurance Conference which began at Shangri-La’s Barr al Jissah Resort and Spa on Tuesday. Health Minister Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al Saeedi presided over the inaugural session of the two-day forum, which brings together high-level executives and experts representing leading healthcare insurers and service providers from around the world.

Delivering the keynote address, Al Salmi said: “We have just been informed that the CMA’s proposal for making healthcare insurance compulsory for expatriates has been approved by the government. This is a positive step, and comes at an opportune time.”

Later, in remarks to the Observer, the CMA Executive President clarified that specifics of the cabinet’s approval are still awaited. “We have to wait for the official announcement, but it’s good news on the whole. We shall be moving ahead with healthcare insurance in the private sector, but as part of a gradual process. We shall do it in stages, starting with big companies, then small firms, and eventually the entire sector.”

For its part, the Authority has set up a dedicated unit to oversee the implementation of Mandatory Healthcare Insurance for expatriates, said the Executive President. “We have established a specific department to look after healthcare insurance, as well as to review the rules and regulations governing this component of insurance services. Hopefully by the beginning of next year, we should be able to put regulations, as well as data gathering and monitoring mechanisms in place.”

Earlier, speaking at the forum, Al Salmi said domestic healthcare insurance services have been growing at a steady clip. Healthcare insurance accounted for 26 per cent of the total premiums collected against insurance policies underwritten in 2016. This is consistent with a roughly 34 per cent average growth witnessed by this segment of the industry over the past 4 years, he said.

Significantly, around 10 per cent of expatriate workers in the Sultanate were covered by healthcare insurance last year, said Al Salmi. Coverage reached nine per cent for Omanis — figures that attest to the growing importance of healthcare insurance in the country. “Healthcare insurance is increasingly an asset that companies are leveraging to attract and retain high quality staff,” he noted.

The healthcare services industry itself is expanding at a rapid rate, the official pointed out. In the Gulf region, the total spend on healthcare exceeded $62 billion in 2016, and is projected to double to around $132 billion by 2020. In the Sultanate, the healthcare spend grew 6 per cent in 2016 and is projected to rise by 7 per cent this year. Given the current fiscal downturn and changing demographics, meeting the rising healthcare cost burden will be a major challenge for the government, and would therefore require the private healthcare sector backed by capable healthcare insurers to step up to the plate, he stressed.

Oman Daily Observer

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