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Cancer screenings and your health insurance in Dubai
Posted on Jul 14, 2017 by Jessica Lindeman
Today, our article looks at cancer prevalence in the UAE, the cost of screenings and cancer treatment, and why it’s essential to select a comprehensive health insurance policy.
Among several UAE health authority initiatives set on reducing cancer cases in the country by 18%, as reported in Khaleej Times the Dubai Ministry of Health is currently urging insurance companies to include coverage of cancer screenings in basic Essential Benefits Plans (EBPs). These negotiations come at a time when cancer incidences are on the rise, with cancer rates in the Middle East expected to double in the next 20 years.
In the UAE, an average of 12 people are diagnosed with cancer every day, which means that there are nearly 4,500 cases every year. While almost all residents in Dubai have compulsory health insurance, those with basic EBPs will find that a number of procedures are excluded from coverage. Coupled with the high cost of cancer treatment, costs can easily exceed the EBP’s annual benefit limit - Dh 150,000 - thus leaving the majority of cancer patients with hefty bills to pay despite having insurance.
Cancer prevalence in the UAE
8.2 million people die of cancer globally every year. In the UAE, cancer is the third leading cause of death after heart disease and accidents, and 500 people in the region die from having cancer every year. The incidence of cancer differs between men and women, but in general the most common cancers in the UAE include breast, thyroid, colorectal, lung, and cervix cancer. Leading behavioural and dietary causes of cancer include a high body mass index, lack of exercise and physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and low fruit and vegetable intake.
The importance of early diagnosis
A big challenge seen in the UAE is that many patients are first diagnosed when they are already in the advanced stages of cancer. Early diagnosis via routine cancer screenings is thus necessary, as it leads to fewer complications and better outcomes. However, despite the increased efforts by health authorities to raise awareness on the importance of early cancer detection, its high cost continues to deter people from attending screenings.
While 98% of the population in Dubai now have compulsory health insurance, the minimum benefit requirements do not require plans to cover cancer screenings. While local Emiratis do have access to free screenings in government facilities, expats do not share the same privileges.
Cancer screening and treatment costs in the UAE
In the UAE, there is no set price for cancer screenings, as the cost will depend on the facility you go to and the type of screening undertaken. That said, generally speaking you can expect to pay around Dh500 to Dh1,000 for a screening. As of the time of writing this article, minimum insurance requirements still do not cover cancer screenings, and as such, the high cost makes it difficult for a lot of people to get these procedures done on a regular basis.
With cancer therapy, patients may need chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, and even a stay at the ICU, so there are a lot of costs involved. While even the most basic plans in the UAE will cover cancer treatment, patients with EBPs will still need to pay a significant amount of expenses out of pocket for care in most cases. This is because EBPs come with a minimum annual coverage limit of Dh 150,000, and considering that the approximate monthly cost of cancer treatment is at least Dh 23,000 per month, and that newer types of treatment like immunotherapy costs Dh 35,000 per session and up to a whopping Dh 3.67 million a year, it is clear to see why having a comprehensive health insurance plan is essential.
So, what’s the solution?
To ensure financial protection against eye wateringly expensive cancer screening and treatment costs, ensuring that your health insurance plan is comprehensive enough to cover sky high medical fees is key. If your current health insurance plan’s coverage is too skimpy and you would like to increase your benefits, there are options available. By purchasing a ‘top-up plan’, you can add certain coverage benefits to your existing plan, and also increase the coverage limit so that it’s high enough to cover all or most of your treatment costs. In regards to cancer screenings, please note here that many insurers do not cover cancer screenings unless annual health checks are included in the plan.