Bahrain, which spends over BD20 million a year on subsidising healthcare services or equal to 6 per cent of gross domestic product, is not ready yet to implement compulsory health insurance for everyone as perceived in the draft law pending before Parliament, a senior government official has said.
Undersecretary at the Ministry of Health Dr Aziz Hamza, said the ministry was could not implement this on its own. The ministry, he said, is only one of the components in a wider structure aimed at ensuring the delivery of healthcare services. "We at the ministry are service providers and not to be blamed for the delay in the implementation of the compulsory health-insurance law. The draft law is pending before Parliament for consideration."
Dr Hamza said the lack of adequate hospitals and the limited number of insurance companies to offer such services in the country were among the biggest challenges being faced by the sector. In a nutshell, he said, we are not ready to implement the facility at this stage.
Bahrain has seen a growth of private health facilities with 13 hospitals, and, in addition, a number of private industrial companies have their own in-house clinics providing primary care to their employees.
The demographic change with the expatriate population soon rising to 500,000, half the total population of Bahrain, is putting strain on existing resources and introducing compulsory health insurance is seen as a possible solution. The foreign population in Bahrain has been growing at the rate of 11 per cent per year, with numbers increased from 206,000 in 2001 to 430,000 in 2008.
The Bahrain authorities have spent two years in talking and saying that the new law is imminent. Even now, they are not sure about any details of the insurance. Missing are essential details of what the cover has to be, who has to be covered, who pays for it, whether it is from overseas or local insurers etc. So, insurers have not been able to prepare. Only on the cusp of making a new law, has the government realised that their endless dallying and inability to make their minds up, means that if they invoke the new law, there would be no company able to arrange insurance!
With the increased pressure on local hospitals, anyone going to work or live in Bahrain without buying international health insurance is taking a huge risk.