Asthma, and other respiratory issues, in Dubai and throughout the Middle East are a constant source of discussion among the expat community. It is estimated that 13% of the UAE and 25% of children in the UAE have a form of asthma, and the World Asthma Foundation predict the number of asthmatics in the region to increase by 70% in the next 25 years.
The annual sandstorms and continued construction in the region create a huge amount of dust in the air, leading to high levels of PM10. PM10 is the name given to small particles that when inhaled, penetrate deep into the lungs and cause respiratory problems such as asthma. The level of these particles in the air in Dubai is considerably higher than the recommended WHO figures.
During the summer season, when sandstorms are aplenty, the air quality is particularly poor and leads to huge increases in the number of Asthma attacks and other chronic respiratory issues. Another reason behind these issues could be the fact that Dubai residents spend all year living in a fiercely air-conditioned environment.
This particularly poses a problem the individuals at the younger and older ends of the age spectrum. There are few retirees in Dubai, so reports tend to focus on the young. For example, several schools in Dubai have recently recorded terrible air quality presumably due to the poorly serviced and maintained air conditioning units in place. This could be the explanation behind the increase in percentage of young people with asthma; a figure that is one of the world’s highest.
Asthma attacks and hospitalizations due to breathing difficulties are obviously a very real concern, especially in Dubai. A stay in any leading private hospital, even just for a few days, is likely to generate a bill of up to USD 10,000 and getting this covered by a health insurer in Dubai prior to this year would have been difficult.
Medical Insurers in Dubai are under no obligation to cover an individual’s pre-existing medical conditions (in Abu Dhabi this is not the case). In fact, few individual health insurers around the world are required to cover pre-existing conditions and most do not do so. Akin to ‘buying claims’, insurers typically do not cover pre existing conditions simply because it is almost guaranteed that they will have to pay for medical bills and will most likely lose out on money. However in Dubai, three insurers (Allianz Worldwide Care, Bupa International and Interglobal) have reached out to those with pre-existing medical issues and now offer ‘Full Medical Underwriting’ (FMU). To be able to benefit from this, an individual must provide additional medical information so that the insurer can assess the illness and decide if the pre-existing condition can be covered for an additional premium (premium loading).
Allianz Worldwide Care have already provided the option to cover pre-existing conditions for some time but in 2012, Interglobal and Bupa International also introduced this option to their standard individual plans in Dubai. This now means those moving to Dubai who suffer from asthma and respiratory issues will have an option to get their condition covered. However, this option will typically lead to a loading on the premium of 5-25% depending on the severity of the condition.
Furthermore, the good news does not just extend to those with breathing conditions and the FMU process can be extended to cover a whole range of other conditions ranging from hypertension to high cholesterol and even Diabetes in some cases.
Given that more than 50% of people over 50 suffer from some form of pre-existing condition that would typically be considered uninsurable, the advantage of FMU puts Allianz, Bupa and Interglobal in a good position to capture market share in Dubai. Around a decade ago, the option to cover pre-existing conditions was rare, with only IHI Denmark regularly covering sufferers, but today in the global market there is now a long list of insurers willing to cover a pre-existing condition.
This trend has been slow to reach Dubai (which requires insurers to be licensed onshore) but now coverage policies have changed it is fully anticipated that in the coming year or two, providing coverage for common pre-existing conditions will be the norm from leading health insurers, not the exception. Key players such as Cigna with their high end Global Health Options plan targeting senior executives will surely also need to follow suit.
Neil Raymond, CEO of Pacific Prime, commented on the situation: “When clients used to come to us with existing medical conditions, getting these covered even if they were minor issues, was basically impossible. Now however, with three leading insurers being about to cover a full range of issues, we are able to given clients a lot more piece of mind”.
With the rising cost of health treatment in Dubai, getting pre-existing conditions covered is going to be increasingly important. Although air quality is not likely to improve any time soon, at least treatment for the consequences on ones health can now be covered and lighten the stress load of the situation.