You have reached the main content

Health insurance to be made mandatory across all Emirates of the UAE

On April 17, 2024

Starting next year, employer-provided health insurance coverage will be mandatory for all private-sector and domestic workers across the UAE, following a nationwide health insurance mandate ratified by the Emirati cabinet. 

While specific details of the new ruling have not yet been released, news reports indicate that employers in all Emirates will be required to cover the cost of health insurance for workers when their residency permits are issued or renewed. Coverage “will be based on the health insurance system established by this decision,” or alternatively, employers may opt to purchase health insurance from another provider within the country.

Before this ruling, no federal legislation in the UAE required employers to provide health insurance for their employees. The decision to enforce mandatory health insurance rested with the authorities of each Emirate. Only Dubai and Abu Dhabi had established laws for it, with the latter also requiring employers to offer insurance for workers’ dependents. In the Emirates of Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman, and Fujairah, health insurance for workers was optional and left to the discretion of employers.

While the move to unify health systems and implement mandatory health plans for the remaining Emirates is a positive step, healthcare in the UAE continues to be characterized by severe discrimination based on nationality and employment. Emirati citizens and those employed in the government sector enjoy greater accessibility and healthcare coverage compared to non-citizens working in the private sector.

Health insurance provisions for private sector workers in the UAE vary depending on the insurance tier. Typically, the basic insurance, commonly utilised by most employers in the UAE for visa purposes, covers a maximum of AED 150,000 (US$ 40,846) per person per year.

Basic insurance plans offer relatively limited health coverage. Several healthcare services, including maternity care, physiotherapy, and diagnostic procedures such as MRI scans, typically require prior approval from insurance companies and involve a co-payment of 20 to 30%. Additionally, there is usually a six-month waiting period for coverage of pre-existing conditions. Basic insurance plans also do not cover dentistry except for emergencies, nor do they include important health services such as mental health care. Basic insurance plans also do not cover injuries resulting from work-related accidents and road traffic accidents. Residents on basic plans in the UAE frequently express discontent on social media regarding the challenges of dealing with health insurance companies and the restricted network of health clinics available to them.

Insurance policies in the UAE typically require the insured to be employees holding valid residence permits. Migrant workers whose permits are cancelled typically have a one-month grace period before their health insurance expires. After this period, they must pay out of pocket for healthcare.

There are numerous cases of migrants with expired residency permits suffering from severe health conditions who are unable to obtain health insurance. This has led them to incur substantial medical expenses and dependence on charitable assistance.

Rather than offering universal provisions to workers on equal footing with citizens, the UAE has in recent years favoured private insurance-led initiatives for addressing the basic needs of migrant workers. This approach includes initiatives such as the Workers Protection Program and the mandatory unemployment insurance scheme.