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Bid to ‘privatize’ expat health hit – Budget ‘burden’

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KUWAIT CITY, Nov 8: Medical practitioners have rejected the proposal of the Economics Committee in the Supreme Council for Planning and Development to lift the health insurance subsidy granted to expatriates, cancel their privilege to undergo treatment in State hospitals and clinics, and refer them to private hospitals.

The proposal came as part of a report prepared by the committee on lifting subsidies that negatively affect the national budget.

According to the medical practitioners, the proposal is not applicable due to technical, strategic, administrative and moral considerations.

In the same context, Assistant Undersecretary for Non-Governmental Health Sector Affairs in the Ministry of Health Dr Mohammad Al- Khashti pointed out the private sector has 16 hospitals and the total capacity of these hospitals is about 1,230 beds whereas the expatriate population is about three million; hence, it is difficult to apply the proposal, especially in terms of admitting patients, complicated cases and surgeries.

Al-Khashti explained there is a possibility that private hospitals will receive expatriates in their outpatient units, taking into consideration the crowded receptions and long waiting period for a patient to receive the required services.

On the mechanism for the implementation of the proposal and partnership between the private sector and the Ministry of Health in this regard, Al- Khashti said, “I was surprised to see the proposal in the newspapers without any mention of the private sector being called to participate in it.”

In his role, Chairperson of the Private Health Professions Union Dr Adel Al-Ashkanani affirmed the private hospitals cannot accommodate the huge number of expatriates, while the renovation of private hospitals needs many years as it takes about 10 years to construct one hospital, let alone equipping, furnishing and providing the required manpower as well as the bureaucratic procedures in government departments.

He pointed out several health projects have yet to be completed, among which are the ones included in the health insurance but so far nothing has been implemented. He stressed such decisions should be taken with the involvement of all concerned parties in order to address the issue appropriately and water down obstacles.

Meanwhile, Al-Anba daily has quoted the Supreme Council for Planning and Development as saying that the health insurance subsidy given to expatriates is one of the examples of subsidies that hurt the national budget.

The council enumerated five benefits of lifting the expatriates’ health insurance subsidy for the State as follows:

1. Determine the actual cost of foreign manpower and narrow the gap between foreign manpower and national manpower.

2. Create a competitive and strong insurance market which is considered an important part of the financial sector.

3. Create a private health service industry which could develop into an industry that attracts medical tourists regionally.

4. Contribute in reducing pressure on public health services and lessen the need for huge health investments; thereby, reducing the general cost.

5. Generate new job opportunities for Kuwaiti youths in a highly specialized and competitive environment.

The council also recommended that implementation of the proposal should start, for instance, with the expatriates working in the government sector, followed by those in the private sector, and finally the domestic workers.

The council said the insurance companies can refer their clients to government hospitals if the private hospitals lack beds during the transitional period or allow the ones these companies cannot insure to continue receiving treatment in government hospitals, and then later, the Health Ministry may rent out or sell its extra facilities to the private sector similar to what its education counterpart has done. The council added the government should gradually transfer the major part of public health services to owners or boards of private companies in a competitive atmosphere that is free from monopoly; so it can use the funds for researches, highly specialized centers, medical education and training.

By Marwa Bahrawi Al-Seyassah Staff and Agencies

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