Egypt is about to offer all of its citizens health insurance for the first time in the North African country’s history. Prime Minister Sherif Ismail approved on Wednesday a new comprehensive health insurance bill after meeting with the Minister of Health, Ahmed Emad, to review final details of the law.
The new health care program will cost L.E. 140 billion Egyptian pounds ($8 billion) and will be implemented gradually across the country between 2018 and 2032, starting with the cities of Port Said and Suez, and ending with expansion to Cairo and Giza.
Subscription to the universal policy will be mandatory and will cost each citizen, depending on income, between 1,300 pounds ($74) and 4,000 ($227) pounds annually. The government has committed to providing the policy free of charge to those citizens who cannot afford it— an estimated 23.7 million Egyptians (approximately 25% of the population).
The current insurance system’s subscription cost citizens just 112 pounds ($6) annually, but covered only 58% of the population and was plagued by low quality, minimal care and negligence among its hospitals. Only 6% of those covered by the insurance policy, actually utilized its services, and the vast majority of health care expenditure came out of the pockets of Egyptians seeking treatment.
Egypt’s Minister of Health promised Monday that the new system would eliminate the soaring prices of medical services in the private medical sector, as the policy would attempt to adjust market prices. If compliant to certain regulations, all private hospitals will be allowed to enter the program, in addition to government, military and police hospitals.
Dozens of professional syndicates have voiced their opposition to the bill, fearing that the new law, by allowing private companies to negotiate with the government, will push up healthcare costs. The government has moved to dispel these fears by promising that private hospitals will have to comply with the prices that the government sets.
Six years in the making, the bill was drafted by a committee of 22 health insurance officials, bankers and academic physicians before it was referred to the government. It is now set to be introduced to Parliament where it is expected to pass with little opposition and replace the current system, which has been in place since the early sixties.