Bahrain compulsory health insurance problems

Plans to introduce compulsory medical insurance for expatriates in Bahrain have been dealt a body blow with the revelation that legislation to make it possible had fallen between the cracks.

There is no such legislation on the table for either parliament or the Shura Council to vote on, since the original proposal has lapsed.

Even if it was reactivated immediately, it would take months to work its way through the legislative system.

Neither the government, parliament nor the Shura Council has reactivated it since being first presented as a proposal to parliament in June 2006. It is now lying idle somewhere between the three entities.

The proposal was first drafted by the government in a legal format and presented to the Shura Council in 2005. The council approved it as a proposal and the government redrafted it in legal language and sent it to parliament in June 2006. As it happened during the end of the session of the last parliament, the sub-committee was not able to finish its work. As the new election got under way in October 2006, the proposal lapsed.

It is now up to the government to request parliament to reactivate the proposal, which is now on the shelf somewhere.

Parliament will only reactivate the proposal if the request is made by the government. If that happens, it will take several months for the sub-committee to finish its work and send it to the Shura Council for a review, and from there to His Majesty King Hamad for the royal assent.

Health Ministry Under-Secretary Dr Aziz Hamza had said that a draft law on compulsory health insurance was presented to the Shura Council in April 2007, and that the ministry was now waiting for approval by parliament and the Cabinet.

Unfortunately his team had not checked. Had they checked the records both at parliament and the Shura Council they would have found that no draft law was presented last year.

Now it is the job of parliament to study and approve it.

It gets worse. On compulsory medical insurance, the private sector has said it is not now prepared to share this burden. The global economic crisis has affected businesses in Bahrain as well. Parliament is stuck with a warning that if any scheme is enforced now, the employers will transfer the extra costs to the consumers, which will only add to the inflationary effect that the government is trying to reduce.

So, the position is that the law which should now be in place is not, and may or may not be introduced next year.


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