Public Versus Private Hospital Costs in Dubai
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Public Versus Private Hospital Costs in Dubai

A look at the difference in cost between public and private healthcare in Dubai.

Public Versus Private Hospital Costs in Dubai

One of the biggest concerns for most expats relocating to Dubai is the cost of access to adequate healthcare. Thankfully, the quality of healthcare in Dubai is excellent, with cutting-edge procedures and implementation of the latest technology being standard practice. Cost of care, however, is somewhat more difficult to assess.

To begin with, it is important to clarify that Dubai, as with nearly all developed countries, has two distinct healthcare systems: public and private.

For both public and private healthcare, there are plenty of laws in place to mandate minimum standards for care. Both types of care will usually require some payment from the patient, while also offering some level of assistance from the Emirate. However, public and private care in Dubai differ in many ways.

The intent of this blog is to examine the differences in cost for care between public and private hospitals. We will also shed light on some of the barriers preventing complete implementation of the universal health insurance coverage plan for locals and foreign residents that the Emirate has been working towards for the past several years.

(On a side note, it should be pointed out that all member states of the UAE have their own specific laws in place regarding medical care administration and insurance coverage allowances or requirements - the healthcare policies explained herein are specific to Dubai, and not the entire UAE.)

Price Hikes

Throughout the world, and in the UAE as well, healthcare costs are sharply increasing; and everything from basic care to advanced surgical procedures are now more expensive than ever before. This price increase is largely due to annual inflation. Although many states, including Dubai, have tried to keep healthcare fees steady, inflation has forced hospitals and clinics to raise prices in order to stay in business. In fact, some care providers and insurers in Dubai actually posted fiscal losses in recent years as a result of not adjusting their prices and premiums to keep in line with the rising costs of doing business. Thus, average medical costs are expected to increase by 5 to 10 percent in 2013, and continue year on year - a situation that will affect both public and private healthcare institutions equally.

For more information on price hikes, and an explanation of how universal health coverage implementation is still faltering in Dubai, read this article by the Oxford Business Group.

Dubai Public Hospital Care Costs

Sponsored, funded, and managed by the Dubai government, the public healthcare sector is the most affordable choice for medical care in the Emirate. Indeed, millions of individuals rely upon Dubai’s public hospitals - they have no other way of seeking care.

There is no system of compulsory insurance in Dubai. Because more than 90 percent of the emirate’s population is expatriate, and because a huge portion of these foreigners are import labor from poorer Asian countries, there is a significant percent of Dubai’s population that has no health coverage whatsoever.

As a result, the free emergency care offered at public hospitals - guaranteed and funded by the government - is an important safety net for low-wage migrant workers in Dubai.

To make up for the free care doled out, and because Dubai does not use employment taxes to fund its medical system, some of the expenses of covering these uninsured patients is rolled over onto cash-paying or insured patients, resulting in inflated fees at public hospitals for those who can pay. That’s why average costs for care in Dubai’s public hospitals are roughly on par with other “socialized medicine” countries such as the UK and European Union member nations.

This means that a visit to a general practitioner for a routine check-up or similar care will often cost between AED250-400 (approximately US$68-110, £45-72, €52-84), while one night in a public hospital will be around AED1,000 for standard care or AED3,000 for an overnight stay in the ICU. For these prices, the accommodations will usually be dormitory-style, with several patients in a common recovery area.

More serious and extensive care and procedures through Dubai’s public hospitals, such as a knee replacement surgery, can easily exceed AED40,000. Additionally, ongoing or long-term care is quite pricey, with chemotherapy treatments commonly costing around AED8,000 per session.

One bright spot regarding medical costs in Dubai is childbirth, as labor and delivery has not seen significant increases in recent years. Routine delivery is still relatively affordable at around AED5,000 and caesarean section delivery is around AED8,000 plus associated overnight hospital stay fees.

Due to the high number of patients that public hospitals and clinics routinely care for in Dubai, another hidden “cost” of public healthcare is the amount of time that many patients, particularly those in non-critical conditions, often have to wait in order to see a care provider. At public hospitals, care is given according to need and condition rather than on a first come, first served basis.

Dubai Private Hospital Care Costs

Compared to public hospitals in Dubai, private healthcare options are somewhat more expensive, as well as more restrictive regarding the patients they will accept. For the most part, aside from a few public-private partnerships and referrals to private care when it is not available through the public sector, Dubai’s private healthcare centers will not accept patients who are not covered by a comprehensive private medical insurance policy, or who are not able to make cash payment in advance of their care.

With regards to cost, when compared to public hospitals and clinics, patients treated privately can expect to pay around 150 to 200 percent more than those at a public hospital.

These differences in cost are considerable to be sure, but for many patients the improved conditions of the facilities, increased face-time with their doctor(s) and nursing staff, and much greater patient privacy while receiving care and during hospitalization are well worth the extra cost.

Patients who are treated privately can also exercise greater choice in the style of care they receive. For example, most of Dubai’s public hospitals do not allow an expectant father to enter the delivery room while his baby is being born, due to local Islamic customs. At a private hospital, however, birthing mothers can request that the father stay by her side.

To avoid unexpected medical costs, most expats from developed countries choose to protect themselves with private health insurance coverage from a trusted local or international insurer. In many cases, this coverage will be part of an employee’s benefit package. Or, if only public hospital coverage is included, additional health insurance coverage can be purchased á la carte to fit specific needs. Some expats may choose to purchase an emergency-only, major medical coverage plan that provides access to private care in the case of a serious health concern.

Dubai Dental Care Costs

One of the most commonly overlooked medical expenses in Dubai is dental care. Basic check-ups and tooth cleaning at public clinics can be as little as AED100-200, whereas equivalent care from a private dental clinic can often be as much as five times higher. Thus, when looking for private health insurance coverage for Dubai, many people choose to purchase elective dental coverage as well.


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