Politics of treatment abroad for Kuwaitis

 

To dramatically reduce the cost of sending Kuwaitis overseas for medical treatment, the Minister of Health endorsed new regulations for treatment abroad from 2017.

To remove political influence and corruption, all claims to use public money for treatment overseas have to be approved by an independent Medical Board.

A political row has now broken out after board members accused MPs and government officials of interfering in decisions and using medical treatment to get paid for holidays overseas.

Despite claims that outbound medical tourism is declining, figures given to Parliament show that numbers going overseas at the expense of the government rose to 12,000 in 2017, with allegations that MPs and other officials were using their position to use government funds to send themselves, their families and friends overseas for treatment. One former MP was accused of sending 1,100 people.

The Medical Board is alleged to have spent €400 million a year on sending people abroad in 2017. Local sources estimate total outbound spending at €1 million.

In March this year, Minister of Health Dr Basel Al-Sabah disclosed the number of approvals for overseas treatment after they were approved by the specialised committees of hospitals and medical centres during the first half of 2018. The figure was 3,900 cases, an average of around 650 cases per month. Most received treatment in the UK, the United States and Germany.

Despite efforts to improve local health facilities, many Kuwaitis do not trust local hospitals. Local healthcare is in transition from public to private healthcare.

The National Assembly's legal and legislative committee has approved a draft law that would establish a mandatory health insurance scheme for expatriates living and working in Kuwait. The move takes the proposed and long delayed health insurance scheme closer to implementation.

Expatriates account for 70% of Kuwait's population, including 1.1 million Arab expatriates and 1.5 million Asian expatriates. Based on official information from the Public Authority for Civil Information (PACI) in 2018 the number of expatriates is 3.3 million and of Kuwaitis is 1.4 million.

The government has also approved a law to establish hospitals for the treatment of expatriates only. Kuwait is seen as effectively treating expatriates as second-class citizens, and some MPs have called for 50% of expatriates to be deported.

Now the decline in oil prices is challenging Kuwait, which has an over-sized public sector controlling three quarters of the economy.

Kuwait has failed to diversify its economy or bolster the private sector. Because of a poor business climate, a large public sector that employs 74% of its citizens, and an acrimonious relationship between the National Assembly and the executive branch, economic reforms have stagnated.

The country has struggled to privatise many sectors including healthcare, amid tension between MPs and a government that has been run by the Al-Sabah family for three centuries. The situation is not helped by the large amount of bureaucracy and red tape that exists in Kuwait.

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