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Health Insurance

NHIC was set up in 2013, and launched Stage I of the Seha program later that year when Qatari females aged 12 and above received coverage for all female-related health […]

NHIC was set up in 2013, and launched Stage I of the Seha program later that year when Qatari females aged 12 and above received coverage for all female-related health conditions. At the time of writing, Seha is in its second stage, meaning that it provides comprehensive free health insurance for all Qatari nationals. The aim of Seha is to eventually provide health insurance to everyone in Qatar, be it Qatari nationals, expatriates, or even visitors. This step-by-step approach fits in with national strategies as the healthcare sector has had the opportunity to plan and accomplish a succession of targets.

In this relatively short period of time, Seha has made a clear impact on how healthcare is organized in the country. The most important success is that it has received the trust and assurance of over 60 medical facilities, which have joined this national program and have expressed their intention to collaborate on the further development of the program. Looking at the range of services that stretch from dental to optical, and also physiotherapy services, Seha has taken on a comprehensive role. As of August 2014, over 230,000 visits had been made to medical practices providing Seha services. This includes visits to the three largest private hospitals of the country that are also partners in the program.

One of the major benefits of a centralized national healthcare center such as the NHIC is that it provides the country an insight into local healthcare so that it can pinpoint the weaknesses in the overall health of the population. With the knowledge that diabetes is one of the more prevalent conditions in Qatar, a national Diabetes Program was launched in 2014, in which already 78% of those who qualify have enrolled. This is just an example of how data collation and transparency is contributing to raising the level of Qatari health. With over 100 medical providers expected to enroll in the scheme by 2014, Seha has quickly become a key landmark of healthcare development in Qatar.

An even greater benefit will be seen when the data from the NHIC is collated with the Qatar Biobank, whose intention is to collate biological samples and health data to enable medical research on the health issues prevailing in Qatar, and, thus, improve the status of people’s health here. The focus will be on studying both the genetic and environmental factors which affect Qatar’s population. The Biobank is working with the Supreme Council of Health, Hamad Medical Corporation, and scientists from Imperial College London. The pilot phase collected health information and biological samples from the Qatari population began in 2012, and 1,800 people —Qatari citizens and long-term residents—participated. The aim is to record the health information of 60,000 people, the largest population-based health initiative ever undertaken in Qatar, and would represent the majority of Qatar’s adult population.

Also important to the healthcare planning of the NHIC is the Qatar Genome project, which aims at full sequencing of the DNA of all the 600,000 participants in the Biobank. These programs together describe an ambitious plan to know the health of Qatar’s citizens in depth, as genetic sequencing will allow health planners to forecast diseases that are merely latent in the DNA of citizens, as yet unexpressed, and prepare treatment programs that can be implemented by the NHIC.

Improving knowledge of the health concerns of Qatar’s citizens is key to planning both treatment programs as well as preparing the healthcare insurance which is the responsibility of the NHIC. The central issues for Qatari health and illnesses are diabetes, hypertension and cancer, and the research of the Qatar Foundation is focused on developing technologies and treatments for personalized medicine. Qatar also has a high level of concern about the high infant mortality rate, early-term miscarriage and neural tube defects, issues related to the health of women and children in particular.

Despite the extensive planning that went into the implementation of Seha, there are certain issues that still require work. The first challenge lies in educating the Qatari population on how to use the system. An example of the current misuse of the system is that hospitals are facing a spike in demand as people walk in without an immediate cause or condition and demand a checkup. Although it has been indicated by Dr. Faleh Mohammed Hussein Ali that the private sector would benefit more from the scheme, this is also the area that faces the most challenges. Dr. Osman Ramadan, Director of Doha Clinic, has stressed his concerns at the misuse of the system and has said; “It is challenging as there is not yet a sophisticated program of health education to inform the patient that the system will not work if the system continues to be misused.” The increase in patients has put pressure on service quality and has hindered hospital efficiency. In turn, hospital-goers have expressed their dissatisfaction that waiting times are too long and that personal attention has diminished. Dr. Faleh Mohammed Hussein Ali has countered the criticism by saying that not every healthcare provider was fully prepared. He indicated that Seha included a program to educate health professionals on the implementation of the program and that all of those enrolling in the scheme should have been fully prepared. For now, clinics have attempted to facilitate the scheme by employing a greater number of doctors, but it is clear that improvements are still to be made.

Nonetheless, the drawbacks to Seha are unlikely to halt or hinder its implementation and progress. As a fundamental element of human development, healthcare will continue to develop quickly, and Seha will continue to be a part of that. The fact that every Qatari national now has free access to healthcare is a step in the right direction, while plans to cover all expatriate workers by the end of 2015 demonstrate an awareness of national development.

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