Prevention, the best Health Insurance

  • To be in robust health and keep the doctors away, integrate nutritious food, good sleep and great fitness into your routine. For everything else there is always health insurance, advises Mahesh Balani, COO of, UAE in conversation with Health.

Q: What are the steps people should take to tweak their lifestyle, nutrition and reduce visits to doctors?

Simply, follow your doctor’s advice on nutrition and lifestyle. It would typically mean having larger servings of veggies and fruits, pulses and lentils, moderate consumption of meat and elimination of junk, deep fried foods and sugar-rich processed foods and beverages. I think we all know this. We just need to find ways to adapt it into our own food culture and with flavors we recognize. Finding the motivation to make a complete change is easier than most people think.

Health Insurance

Q: What role do preventive health check-ups play in early detection and management of health and thereby reducing the burden of disease?

Early detection can reduce long term costs and more importantly, reverse or limit the damage to our body and allows an individual to enjoy a healthy and active life for years to come. An annual health checkup consisting of major cardiac, liver, kidney, lipid markers can help doctors advise you on corrective measures early on to avoid being on lifelong medications and to avoid further complications as time passes. As diseases progress, they need more diagnostic tests, more medication, more visits to the doctor etc. This also tends to lead to comorbidities that results in treatment costs spiraling out of control. However, early detection must also be combined with immediate corrective action.

Q: How effective is that in keeping health insurance coverage in good limit?

Early detection of major lifestyle diseases such as diabetes or hypertension (which are very prevalent in the UAE) is usually dealt with through conservative treatment such as prescribing some meds and recommending major lifestyle changes to limit the severity. Assuming the patient heeds the advice and is motivated enough to do what’s needed, this would help in containing the disease and thereby contain the cost of treatment. Patients can thus avoid the need for advanced diagnostics, heavy prescriptions, repeated visits, dealing with comorbidities, emergency admissions etc. The long-term cost implications and the impact on mental & physical health should be enough motivation for people to opt for preventive health screening. Preventative screening can be especially useful for people who have a family history of such illnesses or for those who are overweight etc. A stitch in time saves nine.

Q: Can frequent education and campaigns on noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and high cholesterol help in helping public be healthier?

This is already happening. There are tons of material online, on health magazines (digital or print copy), campaigns, webinars etc. that regularly take place. More could be done of course from the point of view of management of healthcare for those already affected. We need to go beyond sharing pamphlets and doing webinars. I believe this is where insurance companies can play a much more vital role with managed care. Stepping in with professional support towards lifestyle management can be a gamechanger but it must come with some incentive such as affordable renewal premiums or other incentives. It’s been tried in the past but needs a bigger push. High claims ratios, poor renewal retention and a few other challenges are stopping insurers from innovating in this space to become a long term healthcare partner and solution provider.

Q: Like the Basama coverage for cancer. is there a need to give basic cover for diabesity epidemic?

The Dubai Health Authority’s Essential Basic Package (EBP) coverage includes Diabetes screening every 3 years to be mandatorily covered as the authorities acknowledge the high prevalence of the disease in our society. This is also extended to annual screening for high-risk individuals (above a certain age or obese patients or those with comorbidities.

Q: What can be done at the school level to educate the younger generation on good health. Will that help us have a healthier workforce and lower health insurance costs?

More schools need to institute healthy food programs and include it in their fees. Many parents can’t make time to prepare a mix of healthy food in the children’s lunch box. Either because their kids make a fuss or due to shortage of time etc. (many challenges to getting this right). Schools already do talk about food and nutrition extensively early on, in introductory science etc but who’s compelled to follow that? We take the kids out on the weekend and line up outside a junk food chain store after they spent a week learning about green veggies and pulses at school. Parents need to work on this too. We must come together as a society on this issue and not depend on one side to fix it.

Q: How has mandatory basic insurance with the EBP package in all emirates helped generate numbers for mass coverage and thereby help insurances maintain a mean average?

The EBP roll out in the Northern Emirates is at an early stage. A big chunk of the population there is getting insured for the first time. It’s a bit early to say what the impact will be but if most of the population buys the bare minimum coverage at around AED 400-500, it won’t be sustainable. Some insurers have started offering discounts on that too to grab a share. Coverage is quite limited and aimed at lowering barriers to entry to ensure compliance. Insurers will be forced to put hard containment measures at those prices which can lead to a lot of dissatisfaction from customers in the year ahead. This is quite different from Dubai which has had its mandatory health insurance law and regulations for around a decade. Across the Dubai market we see prices getting stable for different tiers of comprehensive coverage and enhanced basic plans (for new customers to that insurer). Whereas on renewals, insurance companies review utilization and price individually instead of a complete spreading of costs across the insured pool. Legally, insurance companies are allowed to increase premiums by 100% per medical condition on individual plans upon renewal for Dubai visa holders. For older people (retirees, dependent parents), the premiums quoted can be quite scary and far from reaching any desirable mean average.

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