The Libyan government is no longer paying Jordanian hospitals for the treatment of Libyan patients who travel to Jordan without prior approval. Ali Bin Jalil, head of the Libyan medical committee in Jordan says: “Any Libyan who now goes to Jordan without prior approval from the government must pay his own expenses, including the cost of medical care. The decision was adopted because we cannot cover the high costs of accommodation and daily costs for those who go for treatment and stay for long periods. Some patients have been finishing their treatment and staying in Jordan as tourists – we have had to pay for their accommodation and other expenses.”
The Libyan government owes a huge sum to the Jordan government and hospitals. 58,000 Libyans have gone to Jordan since February 2011, including 48,000 for medical treatment, many with war injuries. The total cost of treating Libyan patients in Jordan is £90 million, and only $30 million has been paid.
The new Libyan government is footing the bill for people injured in the civil war that brought down Qaddafi. It has begun an audit after being charged in excess of $110 million. It accuses some Jordan private hospitals and of ordering unnecessary tests and charging double or even triple the normal cost for treatment.
Jordanian doctors have been treating tens of thousands of Libyan war wounded at private hospitals and clinics across the country. But the mission of mercy has become the object of controversy amid accusations of inflated bills and patients being turned away for lack of beds.
Yalli Abul Kassem, a representative of Libya’s interim government in Jordan, has accused Jordan’s medical sector for overcharging Libyan patients. He also accused Libyan patients of excessive spending, after reports they were using state funds for cosmetic surgery and holidays. “When I took over my job to take care of Libyan patients in Jordan I realized how big my responsibility will be due to overspending of patients and overcharging from Jordanian doctors.”
Until the new rules on prior approval, the Libyan government had no management and budgetary controls, so was paying for the medical costs and travel expenses of the war wounded as well as costs for one or two people to accompany them to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and other countries.
Jordan’s Private Hospitals Association (PHA) has rejected accusations of profiteering, but agreed with Libyan authorities to appoint a team of arbitrators to settle the dispute. Jordanian officials have been also accused of using their positions to take a share of the spoils. One minister is accused of taking 10% of all billed medical costs in exchange for writing and managing contracts for the Libyans with Jordan’s hospitals and serving as the legal representative of all the Libyan patients in the country.
The arguments on profiteering are threatening the hard-earned reputation of the kingdom’s private hospitals, not only among Libyans but others as well, which could hurt one of Jordan’s main earners of foreign currency. Jordanian health minister Abdul Lateef Werikat said the government was alarmed by the rising number of complaints of overcharging by Libyan patients and promised to sort out the problem. Awni Bashir of the PHA denies profiteering or manipulation of the expenses, but this does not satisfy Ali Bin Jalil of the Libyan medical committee, “There is a difference in prices charged for the same medical treatment in different hospitals and we will review the bills as part of the audit process.”
Jordanian private hospitals are a favorite medical tourism destination for patients from Yemen, the oil rich Gulf States, Sudan, Libya and other countries with a less advanced medical infrastructure. The Arab Spring badly hurt the medical tourism business, with non-war 2011 medical tourism cut to half of what it was in 2010.Jordan insists it is safe, but admits that it is surrounded by regional unrest, which makes it difficult to attract patients other than from nearby countries.