Oman Mandatory Healthcare Insurance – The GCC trend continues

Healthcare infrastructure has evolved significantly throughout the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a result of constant investment by each member country. Some of the regional facilities are now on a par with Western standards, with developing centres of excellence in Emirates such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Progress in Oman has also been impressive and a relatively modern public healthcare system is now established. This will no doubt have contributed to the current average life expectancy of 75.5 years, according to the latest WHO data, which is rising year on year and now comparable to many developed western economies.

The challenges to the current healthcare system

However, the aim of the Omani government to provide free, at the point of use, public healthcare for all residents has come under stress.  This has been exacerbated by the crash in oil prices, on which its economy is heavily dependent. Pressures have also been heightened by sharp rises in medical costs, increases in healthcare demands and rising life expectancies. The Mercer Marsh Benefits Medical Trends around the world 2017 report found medical inflation in the MEA region to be an average of 12.4% in 2016. This is projected to increase to 14.9% in 2017.

Similar challenges have been felt by other oil dependent locations including Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This has resulted in a call for innovation in their healthcare systems to maintain and continue to improve standards for their residents. In recent years we have seen the Dubai Health Authority implement mandatory health insurance regulations through Law No 11 of 2013. Similar regulation had already been introduced into Abu Dhabi, and implementations of new laws in Qatar have been in progress for some time.

New mandatory health insurance

Unsurprisingly it has emerged that Oman is in the process of drafting its own set of mandatory health insurance laws with the view to initiate from January 2018; recently publicised by the Oman Daily Observer. The new laws will pass on some of the responsibility of looking after employee health to their employers by mandating that they implement suitable health insurance provisions. Drafted regulations may include financial penalties for companies failing to provide acceptable insurances within the communicated timescales and could form part of the local visa process.

Regulatory expectations and insurer responses

The aim of these new regulations is to ease the pressure on the government by making employers and residents more accountable and financially responsible for their healthcare needs. However, this will invariably add an extra layer of complexity to global employers when reviewing benefit arrangements. Insurers will have learnt from the Dubai Health Authority reforms and leading players have proactively started making plans to cater for the new laws. Some insurers with existing partners in the GCC region will already have a footprint on the ground and thus find adapting to the reforms less challenging.

While details of the forthcoming regulations are yet to be announced, employers and HR teams are encouraged to engage in conversation with their existing insurers, brokers and consultants as early as possible to ensure they are prepared for the expected changes. Those with no current medical insurances in place for their employees in Oman should seek guidance from a suitable global benefit professional.