28/09/2017 05:27 AST

Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al Saeedi, Minister of Health, has urged insurance industry stakeholders to make common cause in the development of a robust healthcare insurance system that would provide effective coverage to the estimated 1.85 million expatriates living and working in the Sultanate.

Addressing delegates at the 11th Middle East Healthcare Insurance Conference which began at Shangri-La’s Barr al Jissah Resort and Spa on Tuesday, Dr Al Saeedi said Oman is committed to developing the underpinnings of an efficient health insurance system hopefully devoid of the “misuse and abuse” witnessed in similar systems in the region and around world.

But he acknowledged that the effort to put in place a strong and effective health insurance system would not be without challenges, given the profusion of examples of countries that have seen their health spend grow exponentially upon the adoption of health insurance.

“Our health expenditure does not exceed 3 per cent of GDP, which in absolute terms, translates to about $700-plus per person per year. But in one country where healthcare insurance was introduced, its health spend grew to about 18 per cent of its GDP, equivalent to around $8,000 per person. In most countries in Europe, it’s around 9 per cent of GDP. Unfortunately, we have examples of very, very poor outcomes where healthcare insurance is misused or abused.”

The cost of implementing healthcare insurance, Dr Al Saeedi warned, has more than quadrupled in some countries in the region, potentially because of defective policymaking. He noted however, “In Oman, we are taking it very slowly so (we come up with a suitable system) that will benefit consumers, insurers, and for us in healthcare. In fact, I would love to see healthcare service providers in the private sector competing with the government. But at the moment, they are not! One possible reason is that there isn’t proper healthcare insurance for many of our expat colleagues working in Oman.”

For its part, the Sultanate has been looking to roll-out healthcare insurance “incrementally”, the Health Minister pointed out. “We started talking about in the early 1990s, with the Ministry of Health even commissioning a study that involved all of the stakeholders. The report, I’m glad to say, stressed that we definitely need some form of health insurance coverage in Oman.”

Robin Ali, Head of Practice at The Consilient Consultancy, an independent consultancy practice based in Dubai said, “the future for Oman is very bright because Oman has the benefit of the understanding of all these challenges, and the challenges primarily come from the insurance market, from the people that are requested to actually implement the programme in terms of selling insurance policies — this is the big issue. But if you get the policymaking right, the implementation part will follow.”

Oman Daily Observer

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