Home » Expat Focus International Healthcare Update February 2023

Expat Focus International Healthcare Update February 2023

Resistance to Kuwait’s healthcare regulations

There have been calls this month for the Kuwaiti healthcare ministry to reconsider the charges currently levelled at expats. Medical costs for expats have risen by 100% in hospitals and by a massive 250% in pharmacies. Consultation costs for expats are also charged at a higher rate, running at around €6 for a check-up and around €30 for a hospital/outpatient visit.

Compared with medical fees in, for instance, the USA, the actual amounts are quite low, but the concern is not that they will have an impact on wealthier Western expats, but on migrant workers who often earn less than the Kuwaiti minimum wage. The Arab Times has reported recently that many expats are no longer seeking healthcare at clinics, and a number of doctors, as well as the Kuwaiti Association of the Basic Evaluators for Human Rights (KABEHR), have criticised the recent legislation. KABEHR is calling for the establishment of state insurance hospitals to cover this cost/treatment gap.

British citizens ‘should take’ medical evaluations prior driving licence exchange

Expat Focus has written extensively on the subject of British driving licences in Spain, and there finally seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. The British Embassy in Madrid, who are due to announce the date when licences can be exchanged, is counselling people to take a medical exam prior to the agreement. Their social media post reads:

“We recommend you get your psicotécnico test in place, as you will need a certificate showing you have passed the test in order to exchange your licence.”

The psicotécnico is a physical and mental evaluation which is used to evaluate the eligibility of employees to work in a variety of different industries. In this case the psicotécnico is being used to check if you’re fit to drive. For instance, it involves an eye test, but may also check your decision-making skills. Contact the Directorate-General for Traffic (DGT) for details of your nearest test centre.

Thailand’s tourist ‘tax’ – will it apply to you?

The Thai authorities have been discussing the introduction of a TBH300 (US$8) fee for every tourist who enters the country, in order to offset healthcare costs, and it looks as though this is now going to become a reality from June 2023. Whilst not a huge amount of money, some expats have objected to the principle, as the term ‘tourist’ has been defined somewhat loosely. One resident, Phil Williams, summed up the counter-argument on Twitter:

“Let’s put aside the ‘it’s only ten bucks’ argument because I couldn’t care less if it was ten times that. What I object to is it being called a ‘tourist fee’ when let’s be brutally honest, it’s actually a foreign face without a work permit fee.’”

Williams is objecting to the blurry lines taken by the Thai authorities with regard to tourists, migrant workers and retirees, an argument which has been going for some time in various areas, for instance, the phenomenon of charging more for treatment in Thai hospitals.

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However, Thailand is not unique. Post-Covid, and even prior to the pandemic, a number of countries have been charging a ‘tourist tax’ under several guises. The Thai version is likely to be added to airfares, but around 20 nations have applied fees in some form. The USA imposes a hotel occupancy tax, for example, and the EU is intending to charge non-EU tourists a €7 fee from 2023 onwards. Japan and Thailand both impose a departure tax, whereas Malaysia sets a fee per night.

The fee will come into force in April and will cover accident and death insurance costs. In the event of insurance payouts, there will be THB1 million (US$30,000) coverage in the case of death and THB500,000 (US$15,000) for medical expenses.

Expats in Shanghai meet with medics

In January, the Shanghai People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries set up a meeting between medical experts and expats to discuss Covid-19 in the wake of the city’s stringent lockdowns. Subjects discussed included future pandemics, when to get a booster vaccination, and how the city intended to respond to Covid-19 after learning from past experiences.

Expats responded positively to this initiative. Murray King, chairman of the Government Affairs Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, expressed his views to the press:

“This (dialogue) is super helpful. China will be moving to a different management of the pandemic starting on Jan 8, essentially downgrading the management. Many of our chamber members are most interested in trying to understand … from a medical perspective, how the virus will continue to develop in the future and how we’ll be able to manage our businesses. It is very good to have factual, objective information. I think it provides a greater level of confidence in the future, and I think that’s exciting.”

Others said that their questions (such as whether to get a CT scan after recovering from Covid-19 and whether you can still donate blood if you’ve had the illness) had been answered clearly and directly. Medical authorities are suggesting that people now use community hospitals as their first port of call if they have Covid-related concerns about their health, rather than the main hospitals, which are still overwhelmed.

Arab Health 2023

January 30th to February 2nd has seen Arab Health, a major Middle Eastern healthcare exhibition, held at the Dubai World Trade Centre. A number of papers were delivered on specific medical issues, but some of the exhibition focused on telehealth, a growing sector in the UAE and elsewhere Research from the American University in Dubai showed that 54% of expats are likely to use telehealth in the UAE, significantly more than the global average.

Emirates Health Services (EHS) participated in the exhibition and unveiled the (rather unnerving) Customer Sentiments Analysis programme: an AI interface which analyses your emotions according to your social media posts.

Her Excellency Mubaraka Ibrahim, Acting Chief Information Officer at EHS, told the press that:

“The Customer Sentiments Analysis platform marks a significant leap forward in the field of analysing and interpreting patients’ feelings, expressions, and voices, and converting them into written texts using artificial intelligence technology. This enhances our understanding of patients’ experiences and opinions, helps us identify areas for improvement, and allows us to make data-based decisions to improve the quality of healthcare we provide.”

This is not the EHS’ only initiative, however. The organisation is also launching: EHS Intelligence Platform, EHS Public Health Ecosystem, Smart Clinical Coding (360), Health Care Sustainability Initiative, and the Performance and Clinical Excellence (PaCE) platform.