Your guide to health insurance in Bhutan
Bhutan has long been ranked as the happiest country in Asia but it is also known that over half of its population still live below the poverty line. Those moving or traveling to Bhutan will undoubtedly have many questions regarding how the local healthcare system works, the development of healthcare, and whether private health insurance is necessary. The short guide below provides useful information about healthcare and insurance in Bhutan, as well as health insurance options for expats living there. Read on to learn more, or click the button below to obtain a no-obligation, free quote.
Healthcare system in Bhutan
Bhutan has offered free universal healthcare for all citizens since the 1970s. Basically, there is no privatization of any physicians or clinics, except for one private health clinic in the capital, Thimphu.
As of 2013, there are 32 hospitals across Bhutan. Most distincts, known as dzongkhags, have at least one hospital, with the exception of Gasa. Thimphu have 5 hospitals, while Chukha, Samtse, and Trashigang Districts each has 3. Every dzongkhag has a number of smaller medical facilities, and Thimphu has an indigenous hospital facility available.
The best health facility in Bhutan is the Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hospital in Thimphu, where patients, including even tourists, can receive free basic medical treatment as well as advanced services such as surgical and emergency treatment. There are general practitioners, several specialists, labs, and operating rooms, as well as CT and MRI diagnosis equipment.
While free universal healthcare guarantees that everyone can get the same standard of treatment, the downsides are overworked doctors, lack of specialists and medicines, and long queues. Currently, in urban areas, there are 5.1 physicians and 11.5 nurses for every 10,000 people. The averages for rural areas are even more dismal with 0.2 physicians and 2.4 nurses for every 10,000 people.
Besides, treatment for more complicated illnesses and procedures such as cancer and neurosurgery are not available in Bhutan. Patients will have to be transported to better medical facilities in India and Thailand if they wish to receive treatment. Outside of the major urban areas, it is difficult to find medical care beyond basic health services.
How is the healthcare development in Bhutan currently?
Bhutan’s health services are organized in a four-tiered network, which is made up of the National Referral Hospital, regional referral hospitals, district hospitals, basic health units, and outreach clinics at the local level. The health service units on the lower levels depend mainly on local authorities and administrators for their support, who in turn, report to the health department at the national level.
Bhutan is currently implementing a five-year plan, which focuses on continuing to improve healthcare, particularly in increasing the healthcare personnel-to-population ratio, improving life expectancy, and decreasing the number of hours that its citizens will have to walk to a healthcare facility down to 3 hours for 90% of its population. The five-year plan allocates 8.5% of its national budget to the health sector.
In addition, Bhutan has also established a national health trust fund, which aims to reach USD $24 million. The Bhutanese government has also pledged to match all donations to this trust fund, one-to-one. Sixty percent of Bhutan’s healthcare services are currently funded by foreign aid, which makes its stability unpredictable. The Bhutan Health Trust Fund will help fund its health services in the event that foreign aid may decrease or become unavailable. Bhutan’s economy is expected to stabilize within 15-20 years, and hopefully, Bhutan’s health sector can become independent of foreign aid by then.
Traditional medicine used in Bhutan
Both traditional and classical medicine is common in Bhutan, and patients can decide on the method of treatment on their own.
Traditional medicine has a large presence in the Bhutan healthcare system. The government funds the Institute of Traditional Medical Services (ITMS), which has set up a network of 1 indigenous hospital, training center, pharmaceutical and research laboratory, and 17 indigenous dispensaries, which are attached to district hospitals. Often, both allopathic and traditional health services operate in the same hospital, and there are even inter-referrals of patients between the two systems. All traditional medicines are produced in Thimphu and distributed to the other regions. As is with allopathic health services, traditional healthcare is also free of charge.
Healthcare for expats living and working in Bhutan
Expatriates and tourists traveling to Bhutan are strongly advised to take out an international private health insurance policy in case of a serious illness or injury. It is not uncommon for expenses to rack up and go beyond USD $100,000, especially for medical evacuation. Private health insurance policies are encouraged because of factors such as low healthcare standards and poor road conditions.
Apart from health facilities being few and far outside the capital, the facilities and standards of healthcare are significantly below those of Western Europe and North America.
Poor road conditions are another big danger that besets tourists and citizens alike. The mountainous terrain and lack of maintenance make landslides, steep drop-offs, blind curves, and falling rocks constantly plague Bhutan roads. Thus, tourists are required by the government to organize their trips through recognized tour companies and travel in groups.
Visitors to Bhutan should make sure that all their vaccinations are up to date. Recommended vaccinations include adult diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, polio, typhoid, varicella, Japanese B encephalitis, meningitis, rabies, and tuberculosis. Vaccination for yellow fever is required for entry into the country if arriving from a yellow fever infected country in Africa or the Americas. Other possible health risks include Acute Mountain Sickness, also known as altitude sickness. Always ascend slowly when trekking, avoid grueling activities in the first 24 hours, and avoid alcohol consumption at high altitudes.
Medicine and supplies
Be sure to always bring adequate supplies of your own medication when traveling. Medicine and supplies easily accessible in your home country may not be available in Bhutan. Diarrhea is the most common ailment of tourists in this part of the world. Most cases are mild and can be treated with rest and adequate fluids.
With extensive years of experience throughout the world, Pacific Prime can assist you with any health insurance needs in Bhutan. We offer professional advice and free plan comparisons to our clients. No matter what your budget is or what your requirements are, our professional consultants can match you with a policy that best fits you or your group. Our policies can cover a wide range of services including dental, maternity, specialist consultation, transportation, inpatient services, and many more aspects. Please contact us today for a free consultation.