In UAE, the common man has seen a rapid increase in healthcare charges over the past few years. The people in UAE have been affected not only by the rising cost of living but also by the health sector, which has become a money-spinning business.
The government in 2003 revised the healthcare fee structure. This had upset many emigrants, who previously had the benefit of 'free' hospital visits. In fact, they even used to invite their relatives from home country to make use of the excellent and affordable medical services in the UAE. In contrast, the private health business flourished due to the sudden rise in emigrant population who preferred private medical services to government ones as the expenditure was almost same.
Shaikh Majid Al Qassimi, managing director of Al Zahra Hospital, while referring to the government's implementation of the new fee structure in 2003, said "since the government increased the fees for its healthcare sector, the private healthcare businesses hiked their costs by about 150 per cent".
"Healthcare in the UAE has definitely become a 'lucrative' business since healthcare costs have increased dramatically over the years," said P Raman, a resident of Sharjah.
"There is no relief in sight because the government and private hospitals both charge the same amount. There is no option but to depend on what is being offered. Either this, or spend on travelling back home which is unsatisfactory and expensive in some cases as well," he said.
"I have seen people get disappointed and never return for their follow-up visits since the government increased the healthcare fee. Only visits to the emergency section are free and that too if the patient has a valid health card," said a doctor working for a local government, on the condition of anonymity.
"If people think that their illness could take a back seat for a while, they never turn up again at the hospital. People are afraid of a huge medical bill that they may have to cough up. They do not have that kind of money anymore," she added.
"We can only sympathise with them because, we too, despite being health professionals are not entitled to discounts," she added.
In 2003, the out-of-pocket personal expense on health was an astounding 70.4%, as indicated by a 2006 World Health Statistics report.
These expenses included gratuities and payments in-kind made to health practitioners and suppliers of pharmaceuticals, therapeutic appliances, and other goods and services aiming at restoration or improvement of health status. It also took in household costs towards public services, non-profit institutions or non-governmental organisations, however, left out payments made by projects aiming at medical and paramedical benefits to heir employees.
3.3% of gross domestic product was the total expenditure o government on health in 2003.
"We have to trust them because they are the experts. If they say that a person needs a particular treatment to survive, then we are ready to pay up whatever they demand even if it means taking loans," said Fazeel Khan, who recently paid Dh50,000 as Intensive Care Unit charges for a loved one in a private hospital.
"I have no health insurance, all I have done is taken a loan and used up my credit cards. Saving the life was more important. I have no idea how I will clear my loans," he added.
In 2003, the Department of Health and Medical Services (Dohms) presented a new fee list for gynaecological and maternity services, as a part of the government's plan.
"Even then it was a shock to the expat community as all the government announcements were very sudden. Till that time, I have never given preference to a government hospital because I have to pay for myself, therefore, it does not make any difference if I pay to a private hospital or a government one. Both charge the same amount more or less," says Shanti Sudhir, a housewife.)
It costs Dh2,500 for a pregnant woman for registration. Apart from that, she has to bear the delivery charges which are like (for natural delivery) Dh2,000 for a shared room and Dh3,000 for a private room, according to the health care programme. A caesarian section costs much more. The charges are almost same in private hospitals with better services.
A conclusion of the WHO report published in the East Mediterranean Health Journal, which was based on the views of arguments and points in favour of the current health care system, states: "Why is it that the perception of people remains that the health care system is not as good as it should be, that the quality of care in its facilities leaves much to be desired and that it needs a major overhaul? Why is it that patients prefer to be treated abroad, despite the difficulties associated with treatment abroad? Why is it that patients seek the private health care sector of the UAE in increasing numbers?"