Find the UAE health insurance cover that works for you

Last year something happened to a number of local UAE health insurers that affected not only the companies themselves, but a portion of the millions of people they cover.

The industry went from posting a collective Dh859.4 million profit in 2014 to a loss of Dh106.2m in 2015 – a difference of almost Dh1 billion in revenue in just one year.

Not all local health insurers recorded a loss. In fact some, such as ADNT and Orient Insurance, actually posted a rise in profits. But they were in the minority.

In total over 2015, profits were down for 20 of the 29 local health insurers listed on either the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange and Dubai Financial Market. Some even lost money.

“Basically it was because they bought business,” says Janek Zawadzki, business development manager of employee benefits at Al Futtaim Willis, the UAE branch of one of the world’s largest insurance consultants. “What they did was to win clients they reduced the cost of their insurance knowing that they would make a loss to hopefully get some loyalty out of the client and renewal the following year.”

Brokers also tend to sell on price, leveraging their purchasing power and leaning on insurers to make a loss with the guarantee they will keep a client for the next year, which is not always the case.

“So it is bad behaviour in the marketplace that has caused the issue, and insurers, just because they can’t afford to make another massive loss this year, have increased their costs across the board, typically,” adds Mr Zawadzki.

That means some employers, many of which are already struggling with the effect of lower oil prices, have been forced to downgrade their staff’s health insurance policies to cut costs.

In Dubai the problem has been compounded by the fact that all companies must provide cover to employees and their families by June. Health cover has been mandatory in Abu Dhabi since 2006.

“Perhaps an unintended consequence of health insurance becoming mandatory is the commoditisation of health plans,” says Jon Richards, founder and chief executive of

“Whereas in the past, employers saw health insurance as an additional benefit for certain key employees it has now become a mandatory purchase. To cover the cost of insuring the entire workforce some key employees are seeing a reduction in cover.”

There are, however, steps you can take to increase your cover yourself:

1. Elect for an outpatient plan

Mr Zawadzki says you could elect to have an outpatient plan, but this is only an option for certain insurers.

2. Have the difference in cost for a higher plan deducted from your salary

Mr Zawadzki’s preferred option is to cover for the difference in cost between policies yourself and pay for it through a deduction in your salary. “Most insurance plans are categorised into A, B or C. C is for people who earn less than Dh4,000. B will be mid-level and A will be managerial. But sometimes they have four categories,” says Mr Zawadzki. The larger the company you work for the better the rate they receive, so for a large company the difference [that you will have to pay] could be around Dh4,500 to Dh5,000 for mid-level and Dh6,500 to Dh7,000 for the upper level. And as Mr Zawadzki points out, this is not that much considering you could receive Dh5,000 worth of dental work and Dh1,000 worth of optical benefits.

3. Ask your insurer about top-up policies

There are very few stand-alone top-up health insurance plans available, says Mr Richards. “We fully expect such products to start hitting the market over the coming years,” says Mr Richards. However, they may not be worth it, says Mr Zawadzki. Because most people who seek top-up plans are sick, they typically come with a long waiting period before coverage applies.

4. Purchase a separate policy for yourself

If all else fails, you could buy a better health insurance policy for yourself. Price comparison websites such as Souqalmal, which recorded a 200 per cent increase in visits to the health insurance section in the first quarter compared to a year earlier, allow you to compare policies. “If you’re looking for a health insurance plan, you should always start with understanding your medical history and requirements to find the best insurance policy that meets your needs. For example, if you have a pre-existing condition, check for plans that cover it,” says Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of “Other important aspects to consider are: geographic scope of cover, maximum claim amount or annual limit, co-payments or deductibles.”

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