Health insurance plan draws mixed reactions

ABU DHABI — The introduction of the private health insurance scheme for employees in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, beginning next month, has drawn mixed reactions from employers, particularly those presiding over small business enterprises. The move, however, has generally gone down well among those employed in the private sector.

By A Staff Reporter

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Published: Tue 13 Jun 2006, 11:33 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 7:21 PM

Initially all companies with a staff strength of 1,000 and above, besides government and government organisations, will comply with the rule starting from July 1. Companies employing less than a 1,000 employees will come under the scheme in the second phase. Khaleej Times got across to a cross section of those who will come under the purview of the new law. Excerpts:

K.S. MANIAN, who runs a travel agency, emphasises that he remains an employee in the technical sense of the term. "For all practical purposes, however, I am an employer. I pay the salaries to my staff, settle the overhead charges, the utility bills and run the day-to-day business. I had been a beneficiary of the scheme when I was working in Saudi Arabia before I sought employment here," he says.

Manian, though, feels large companies would go for group insurance to lower the costs of medical cover for their employees. Smaller companies, he says, would be hard pressed for resources. "The scheme is bound to hurt them since employers have to defray costs. It would be better for small companies to continue with the present system of cover provided by the health card that works up to just Dh500 per annum, and Dh300 for the subsequent years. With oil prices skyrocketing and funnelling in massive revenues for the state, people would expect the state to subsidise health welfare schemes heavily so as to benefit millions of employees," he reasons.

K.K.V. Dharan, the proprietor of an oil and industrial supplies company, makes his stand very clear. "The cost of living is steadily going up and it would be unfair to impose any further burden over and above the current costs incurred by employers. We do not as yet have a clear picture as to the costs entailed in providing health insurance cover for employees across large, medium and small companies."

Dharan tries to project a figure to back his claim. "I expect that the financial burden on the employer would be anywhere in the range of Dh1,500 to Dh2,000 per employee per annum. I have stayed here for 42 years and I feel that maintaining the status-quo would do well for smaller companies which are already feeling the pinch of rising rentals for their office premises."

AZHAR QASIM ALAM, owner of a maintenance company, presents a different perspective. "I welcome the move as health is of paramount importance, rated on par with wealth. But if the costs are prohibitive, the first one to suffer health problems would be the employers. Large companies can afford to foot the bill as their expenses are cushioned in the prices quoted in tenders when procuring contracts."

Citing the case of cleaning companies, he says many employers are making huge profits while extending subsistence-level wages and accommodation to their staff. "This section of employees is vulnerable to health problems and therefore should be brought under the private health insurance scheme," says Azhar.

REHANA Y. KHAN takes a close look at the scheme from the other end of the spectrum. "For expatriates living in the UAE and working with private organisations, health insurance cover is imperative, especially for pregnant women, families with children, the elderly, and for disabled individuals with very low incomes. Health care costs are going over the top and one can't think about being involved in a serious accident or being down with a major illness leave alone cancer," she says.

Rehana feels that health insurance would be vital to protecting oneself and family if expensive medical attention were to be necessitated. "You can't predict what your medical bills will be like; in healthy years, your expenses may be low but if you become ill your bills could climb on you; particularly if you have a modest income. All employers must offer health cover to their employees so as to draw the best from them and to ensure a stress-free existence for them."

MARYAM ABDULLAH, employed in a national private sector concern is all praise for the scheme. "The UAE is giving its employees a gift by saving them expenses on the health front. It's definitely giving them a new life too."

ASMA ABDULLAH, another national private sector employee concurs. "Medical expenses in this country are very high and for a person with a low income, health insurance is a real boon."

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