Interview: Abdullah Al Sharif
How would you describe Saudi Arabia’s health insurance market, and what plans are there to expand?
ABDULLAH AL SHARIF: The sector continues to grow in both number of operators and customers. We have added two new qualified insurance companies, bringing the total to 28, and two third-party administrators, for a total of eight. Gross written premiums have increased since 2013, as have claims paid by insurance companies. Among groups currently required to register for compulsory health insurance, penetration now stands at 95%.
We are now considering the addition of new groups, and this has potential to grow the sector significantly in the coming years. The CCHI is working with the Ministry of Hajj to possibly mandate that all visitors coming to the kingdom for short trips, including for Umrah, receive compulsory coverage. We are also discussing extending coverage to the entire Saudi population, including public sector workers, families supported by social welfare, the unemployed and retirees.
How is training being developed to ensure a qualified labour force to support industry growth?
AL SHARIF: The biggest potential for growth in the industry over the next few years lies in training, both for workers at companies related to health insurance and for other stakeholders such as employers and health care providers. This will become increasingly important over the next few years given the market’s expected growth. The big employers will need people with insurance training so that they can communicate properly with insurance companies. Health care providers need staff who understand aspects of insurance like cost and service pricing to improve communication between providers and insurers. There is also a need for greater insurance expertise among supporting services like accounting and legal firms.
The CCHI will not itself conduct training for external parties, but will work with businesses and entrepreneurs to establish training facilities. We are working with the central bank to develop curricula for these institutions, both by updating the content of current courses and by creating content for new ones. We are meeting often with the chambers of commerce to highlight opportunities in insurance training, thereby encouraging further investment in such facilities. The CCHI has also been in communication with the Ministry of Higher Education to press the need for insurance courses at universities. We have encouraged the ministry to pursue sponsorship opportunities for Saudis to study health insurance at universities abroad. By working with public and private stakeholders, we are identifying and communicating the needs of the market to form a coordinated approach to the sector’s expansion.
What is being done to ensure that compulsory products are being regulated properly and that there is proper awareness of the benefits?
AL SHARIF: The sector’s high penetration rates are thanks to the strong tools we have to enforce compulsory health insurance. Non-Saudis working in the private sector cannot obtain residence permits without proof of insurance, and Saudis working in the private sector cannot obtain social insurance without registered health insurance. Since these services are all electronic, the CCHI is able to link its database with other agencies to ensure that these requirements are being met.
One issue we are working to address is that insurance is taken out on an annual basis, whereas residential permits are renewed every two years, so some people let their policies lapse to save money. We are now coordinating with the Ministry of Labour to link insurance requirements to work permits, so that these cannot be renewed without a renewal of health insurance.
These tools are in place because sadly many people still see insurance as a burden. The populace must be constantly educated about the financial security that comes with insurance. We are now conducting awareness campaigns to ensure that employees know their rights and benefits. This is especially important for non-Saudis, given the high turnover of foreign workers.
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