Prior to the growth of the foreign workforce in the United Arab Emirates at the beginning of the millennium, an employer was only required to pay a few hundred dirhams to obtain a health card for its employees to be treated at medical facilities.  With the increase in demand for the provision of health services due to the surge in population, which has to be covered by public funds, the authorities aimed to further regulate the healthcare sector and ensure its availability to residents and to the local population.

The healthcare sector in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi was regulated and operated by the Ministry of Health until 1999, when it was replaced by the General Authority for Support and Development of Healthcare (GASDH).  The aim of establishing GASDH was to support the Ministry of Health within the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  Later the name was changed to “General Authority for Health Services” (GAHS), which was subsequently changed to the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD).

In 2007, the Emirate of Dubai enacted Law no. 13 for Year 2007 establishing Dubai Health Authority (DHA) with a “vision to include strategic oversight for the complete health sector in Dubai and enhance private sector engagement.”

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi was the first to address the issue of health insurance and enacted Law 23 for Year 2005, the Health Insurance Law of September 2005 which came into force four months later as stated in Article 27 of the said law. Abu Dhabi was followed by the Emirate of Dubai when in 2013, the Health Insurance Law for the Emirate of Dubai, Law no.11 for Year 2013, was enacted.  Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the only two emirates of the UAE with mandatory health insurance laws.

The aim of enacting insurance laws in Abu Dhabi and Dubai was to ensure that all residents and nationals of Abu Dhabi and Dubai will have access to healthcare services.  The Health Insurance Law of Abu Dhabi has been fully implemented since 2006, however the Health Insurance of Dubai is in the process of being enforced in phases based on the employer’s number of employees. The Health Insurance Law of Dubai will become fully enforced by the year 2016.

The regulation “Implementing Regulations of Law no. 23 of 2005 Concerning the Health Insurance in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi” was approved by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council. It detailed all procedures required to implement Law no. 23 of 2005.

Both laws require the employer/sponsor to guarantee the availability of minimum level of healthcare services for those under their sponsorship.  The responsibility falls on the employer to provide such benefits by covering the employee, his wife and three children under the age of eighteen.  In cases where dependents are not covered by the employer, any number of dependents above that are mentioned in the law shall be the responsibility of the employee (sponsor of his dependents).

Both the governments of Abu Dhabi and Dubai are funding healthcare expenses for nationals registered with the health authorities of both emirates.

Under Abu Dhabi law, the minimum level of healthcare services is referred to as “Basic Health Insurance Policy,” while Dubai law refers to it as the “Essential Benefits Plan.”  Both minimum services cover emergency services, access to a primary care service, tests and investigations, referral to specialists and surgical procedures and maternity care.

The laws of both Emirates impose a list of penalties on the violators of the laws. This includes employers, sponsors and healthcare providers.  Schedule 4 of the Regulations imposes a monthly penalty of 300 Dirhams on an employer or sponsor for failing to subscribe for those under his sponsorship.  The 300 Dirhams penalty shall apply for each violation.   While Article 23 of the Dubai law imposes a penalty ranging between 500 and 150,000 AED for violating the law.  In addition, it is not permissible for employers to deduct premiums from the employee or to reduce salary to mitigate the cost.

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