What does a government do when their country becomes flooded
with foreign workers? If you’re anything like Qatar (or Turkey, a short while
ago) your finances start to falter under the strain of all those extra
The fact is that global healthcare costs continue to grow,
even for routine medical care, and many governments around the world are
feeling the pinch. Unsurprisingly many of these governments are now seeing
state-funded healthcare as unsustainable and are instead starting to put the
costs of maintaining their healthcare system back onto residents.
Qatar is in a particularly tricky position, because so much
of the money it is paying out to maintain its healthcare system is actually
being spent on non-nationals. If recent statistics are to be believed, 94% of
the current work force in Qatar consists of foreign nationals. India alone accounts
for over half a million workers.
Now all this may be set to change.
Qatar has become one of the wealthiest nations in the world,
thanks to its petrochemical industry. This same industry means that according
to some expats, fuel for your car is in such abundance that it is now cheaper
than bottled water. And it’s this wealth – plus all the jobs it creates – that
is drawing so many expats to this desert nation where daytime temperatures
regularly top 50@C.
Starting next year though, these very same expats who form
the backbone of the Qatari financial system will have to seek private health
insurance rather than relying on subsidized medical care provided by the state.
In many cases, this compulsory health insurance will be
provided by employers, though self-employed expats will of course need to
arrange their own policy.
The Qatari government has been dismissive of those who
suggest this is largely a cost-cutting exercise. As a wealthy nation it seems
unlikely that Qatar couldn’t afford to provide universal healthcare to
nationals and non-nationals alike. However there have been suggestions that the
Qatari government is simply seeking to make savings in the area of healthcare
so that it can be spent elsewhere.
The government, however, claim that the primary motivator is
not a lack of finances. Instead, making it compulsory for expats or their
employers to take out private health insurance policies should help to
rejuvenate the industry and encourage competition. This competition among
insurance providers, the government claims, should lead to more competitive
pricing and, as a result, a better overall result for the Qatari people.
Whatever the truth behind the change, the end result is that
expats in Qatar should remain vigilant about the introduction of this program.
Check carefully with the government, and your Qatari employer, to ensure that
you have all the necessary cover as and when the new policy is introduced.