Qatar recently indicated its intention to renew the compulsory health insurance system, by issuing a new law that is due to enter into force in May 2022. The new compulsory health insurance system will apply to all expatriates and visitors to Qatar. The new system will replace the previous scheme (SEHA) that was dissolved in 2015. In this article, we look at how the new system works, what this means for employers and the insurance market in Qatar, and the implications for unregistered foreigners. Health insurance companies operating in the region.
The imminent law and regulations are expected to develop the health sector in Qatar to reduce the pressure imposed on it to a large extent by its expatriate population.
The implementation of the law comes at a time when Qatar is preparing to host the 2022 World Cup and will witness a huge influx of visitors. Qatar’s national insurance companies are well positioned to take advantage of the momentum.
Full details of how the scheme will operate and implement are still pending.
Ministry of Public Health (‘Ministry of Public Health’) for the implementation of the new mandatory health insurance system for all non-Qatari citizens residing in Qatar and its visitors. The new system was issued under Law No. 22 of 2021 regulating health services in Qatar (Law‘). The law was published in the Official Gazette of the State of Qatar on November 4, 2021 and repeals all previous laws governing health services. The law shall enter into force on May 4, 2022, six months from the date of its publication in the Official Gazette.
The announcement of the law introduces a number of significant changes to the current health insurance system in Qatar:
- All visitors and non-Qatari nationals in Qatar must have private health insurance for the duration of their stay to receive basic medical services.
- Employers must register their non-Qatari employees and family members in the mandatory health insurance system through contracts concluded with insurance companies registered with the Ministry of Public Health.
- The same obligations apply to sponsors of expatriates in Qatar, such as the employer, to provide coverage for basic health insurance.
- Employers will need to prove that their employees are covered by the mandatory health insurance scheme when issuing or renewing their residence permits. Basic health insurance will be a prerequisite for obtaining any form of permit or visa in place of the current requirements for individuals over the age of 60.
- Additional health care services above and beyond basic health insurance requirements may be provided by an employer or a contract recruit.
- Employers or recruitment agents who fail to provide basic health insurance to their eligible employees and family members will be issued with fines.
- Detailed implementing regulations will be published to provide more details on how the law operates in practice.
What does this mean for the insurance market in Qatar?
A health plan was introduced in Qatar in 2013 to include one state-owned insurance company (National Health Insurance Company – NHIC) that provides basic coverage to expatriates and Qatari nationals. The scheme was managed by TPA outsourcing.
The health scheme was canceled at the end of 2015 and NHIC was duly liquidated. Health insurance has reverted to a dedicated private medical scheme, with the Qatari government absorbing the costs of all other residents and healthcare costs for citizens.
The new scheme appears to envisage private insurance companies that have been approved by the Ministry of Public Health empowered to offer specific minimum levels of coverage as stipulated in the scheme. The Ministry of Public Health is likely to play an additional role as a regulator of health insurance services. It is not clear what licenses or permits brokers and TPAs will need.
However, if the scheme follows those implemented in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, one can expect to see the Ministry of Public Health require all participants in the insurance market chain to be authorized to provide health insurance-related services in the scheme.
This means that foreign insurance companies, brokers or TPAs, who do not currently have a presence in Qatar, will be barred from participating in the program, unless they establish and obtain the required authorization from the Ministry of Public Health. It is not yet clear whether the registration requirements will also extend to additional health care services, which could then affect the ability of unregistered insurers to provide this type of coverage.
We will need to wait for the implementing regulations details before understanding how the system works.
lay out the chart
The plan is scheduled to enter into force in May 2022. Insurance policies issued prior to this date will remain in effect until expiration. There is a question mark over whether this transition phase will apply to policies issued by unregistered insurers. It is also not yet clear whether there will be a global implementation of the system, or whether it will be implemented in phases.
The system is not currently considering mandatory insurance requirements for Qatari nationals. In Saudi Arabia and Dubai, citizens are required to have private medical insurance, while in Abu Dhabi, the Ministry of Health runs a scheme for UAE nationals, which is run by a local insurance company.
It is not only the insurance market that will need to prepare for the launch of the new system. Employers and sponsors will need to familiarize themselves with the requirements. Details of the various plans requested and offered, along with costs, are still pending. Healthcare providers will also be interested to know the specific level of benefits provided under the new system.