International Private Medical Insurers (IPMI) have been watching closely and waiting for news on Qatar’s new Mandatory Health Insurance Scheme to anticipate how this may affect their product offerings and distribution in the region.

Recent news confirmed that the Government of Qatar has suspended the rolled out mandatory health insurance programme as at 31 December 2015. Any plans to roll out the programme have been put on hold indefinitely, as expressed in a Cabinet meeting of 23 December 2015.

In June last year, this firm had circulated an update to many of its IPMI clients on the roll out of the mandatory scheme through the Qatar National Health Insurance Company, and how this may affect the distribution of their respective products.

Under Law No 7 of 2013 (the “Law”) the aim was to provide access to universal healthcare to all residents of Qatar. Under the Law, in the initial phase, all Qatari nationals were provided healthcare cover at the cost of the Qatari Government. The subsequent phases involved providing health insurance to all other expatriate residents, the cost of which was to be borne by their respective employers and/or sponsors. The enforcement of these legal obligations linked resident entry and immigration requirements as its watchdog.

However, news reports published on or around 24 December 2015 confirmed that it was decided that in the interest of the private sector, the provision of health insurance services to all citizens is to be moved to private sector health insurance companies. An announcement followed shortly that the National Health Insurance Company or “Seha” (as referred to generally) would be suspended from 31 December 2015.

What does this mean for persons currently covered under Seha

Effective from 1 January 2016, Qataris who have been benefitting from the national healthcare scheme will no longer be able to use it. The reports state that these nationals will transition to one of the leading private insurance companies in the country within the next six months but did not specify the interim measures and the transitional details.

What triggered the Suspension

Like other countries in the Middle East, falling oil prices seems to be taking its toll on the country’s economy and may have resulted in the decision to withdraw Seha. There are other news reports suggesting that this decision may have come in the wake of increasing abuse of the programme by private hospitals and clinics. The move to private insurance companies may be aimed at attaining better management of medical insurance programmes and plans.

What does suspension of the scheme mean for IPMI Providers and the Global Insurance Market

There is now a great opportunity for the IPMI Provider market to take advantage of this sudden change in direction and provide its product offerings through compliant distribution channels both for the nationals and expatriates alike. Apart from the limited statements made by the authorities, there are currently no official reports on how health care insurance will be managed moving forward. We await further instructions on this topic, but IPMI Providers should look at the existing set-ups and distribution channels to comply with the existing insurance laws of Qatar.