Saudi Arabia’s private medical care has been an area of strong growth since the Cooperative Health Insurance Act of 1999 provided medical insurance to all Saudi private-sector workers, expatriate employees and their families.
Currently 27 insurance firms, seven third-party administration companies, and more than 3,000 healthcare providers are certified by the industry’s regulator, the Council of Cooperative Health Insurance (CCHI)
. The independent government body maintains the legal rights of the insured, checks employers have a health insurance scheme for employees, and ensures that health insurance companies are giving access to, and paying for, the healthcare provider’s services. Some 8.4 million people in the country are now insured and this success has resulted in a drive to expand Saudi Arabia’s healthcare provision.
Studies are planned on the possibility of implementing health insurance for two new groups: Saudis who are traveling abroad for tourism or business, and tourists visiting the country. The target is to increase the number of insured to 11 million.
The long-term aim is to provide universal healthcare insurance. Providers believe that the private healthcare system is not yet ready to handle that level of demand, but government health services are increasing to keep pace, and new facilities being built or expanded will increase the number of hospital beds.
Secretary General at CCHI, Dr. Abdullah I. Al-Hamed Al-Sharif, studied the healthcare provisions in other nations, including the U.S., and concluded “each country has its own system. It cannot be simply copied and pasted.” With over 60% of the population under 30, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health is making healthcare decisions based on youth health issues like smoking and reckless driving. Also, CCHI is working closely with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to unify healthcare in the region.
Dr. Al-Sharif is confident that CCHI can deliver an integrated, standardized healthcare system to make Saudi Arabia proud. Later this year it plans to launch an IT system with real-time information about the processes between the healthcare provider and health insurance companies, setting an example for other GCC countries to follow.