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Kuwait 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: EXPATRIATE-EXCLUSIVE HEALTHCARE

In view of the public health segment's overworking, the government launched a private healthcare scheme for its economy's “expatriate backbone."

With an expected population growth of 2 million people over the next decade, Kuwait has initiated a comprehensive healthcare strategy to provide high-quality services to its citizens and expatriate workers. Having established separate healthcare schemes for Kuwaitis and expats, the government is looking to overcome the challenges currently faced by the country's public health segment. In light of this, the Kuwait Health Assurance Hospitals Company (Dhaman) was established to provide healthcare facilities and insurance services for Kuwait's expat population of more than 2 million people. Initiated as a public-private partnership (PPP) with a paid-up capital of up to KWD230 million, Dhaman's shares are 24% government-owned and 26% private. As the remaining shares will be publicly listed, Dhaman's IPO is expected to be the biggest in Kuwait's history.

This comes as no surprise given the sheer magnitude of Dhaman's operations in terms of healthcare facility construction and insurance provision: In July 2016, for example, leading construction risk management firm Hill International won a KWD3.9 million bid to construct two 300-bed secondary care hospitals in Ahmadi and Jahra. Due to be opened in 2019, the construction of three new hospitals is part of Dhaman's strategy to broaden its range of healthcare services to expats along with 15 primary health clinics across the country. In addition to this, expat-exclusive insurance services have been at the core of Dhaman's strategy. Currently, all expat workers are obliged to obtain a KWD50 health card in order to be granted residency. However, while Kuwaitis have free access to all public hospitals, expatriates with a health card are entitled to healthcare services in the country's public hospitals and primary care centers. In return, this has overstretched the capacities of the country's public healthcare facilities in terms of long waiting times for patients, overcrowding of hospitals, and a noticeable reduction in service quality. In this regard, Salem Haidar, Regional Vice-President of GlobeMed, told TBY: “Perhaps once expats are covered by Dhaman, it will ease pressure on public hospitals. But there has been a great deal of criticism that the government is putting the expats in one place and the Kuwaitis in another. As far as I can see, many people will continue to buy private insurance or top up additional coverage that will give them access to both Dhaman and other private hospitals. Things will become much clearer in the next couple of years."

According to the Ministry of Health, Kuwait's health sector currently encompasses 7,000 public hospital beds and 1,000 private ones, which translates into three hospitals beds for 10,000 people. Paying from their own pockets, many Kuwaitis have consequently preferred treatment in private hospitals and medical centers. At the same time, government-subsidized medical tourism to the US, UK, or Germany has consistently been on the rise. With the government looking to nearly double the capacities of healthcare facilities until 2020, many facilities remain exclusive for Kuwaitis. Deemed as the largest hospital in the MENA region, for example, the 1,200-bed Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah Hospital will exclusively open its doors to Kuwaiti citizens in 2017. In light of high living costs in Kuwait, however, private hospital care is out of the question for numerous expatriate workers employed in various low-pay sectors. Though many employees in Kuwait's banking and financial services segment are covered by corporate medical insurance, others have to pay for the healthcare card, granting them access to public hospitals. Yet, costs for the very card are also set to nearly triple from KWD50 to KWD130 during 1Q2017, which will be a financial burden for many expat workers. Once fully operational, however, Kuwait's “economic backbone" will be fully covered by high-quality insurance and state-of-the-art facilities.