AMMAN - 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.
The Libyan government, which is footing the bill for people injured in the civil war that brought down Muammar Gaddafi, is instituting an audit after they were hit with charges in excess of $110 million. They accuse the private medical centers of ordering unnecessary tests and charging double or even triple the normal cost for treatment.
Yalli Abul Kassem, a representative of Libya’s interim government in Jordan, blasted Jordan’s medical sector for overcharging Libyan patients. But he also accused Libyan patients of excessive spending, amid reports they were using state funds for tummy tucks and other cosmetic treatments.
“When I took over my job to take care of Libyan patients in Jordan I realized how big my responsibility will be, not only for handling the large file but due to overspending of patients and overcharging from Jordanian doctors,” he said
The potential for abuse is written all over the program. The Libyan government, which is struggling to enforce its rule back at home and has yet to set up management and budgetary controls, pays for the medical costs and travel expenses of the war wounded as well as costs for one or two people to accompany them.
That has prompted a stream of patients, not only to Jordan but Turkey, Lebanon and other countries as well. Officials at Jordan’s Health Ministry estimate that nearly 50,000 Libyans received treatment at Jordanian hospitals and clinics in the past year. Libyan diplomats say their government has allocated half a billion dinars ($700 million) to the program.
The six-month-long Libyan civil war was a bloody affair, taking an estimated 30,000 lives before it ended last October. But interestingly, Libya’s health minster estimated at the end of the fighting that the total number of wounded didn’t exceed 50,000, which equals the number of injured to have arrived in Jordan alone.
The first Libyan wounded arrived last summer, while the war between the rebels and Muammar Gaddafi was still raging, when Jordan flew in 170 injured fighters. By the end of the year, Jordan was receiving as many as 800 patients from Libya per day, including people seeking treatment for cancer, diabetes and in-vitro fertilization.
Abul Kassem, the Libyan official, said the visiting patients do not like getting no for an answer when they appeal for financial help. He recently wrote on a Facebook page that he fears for his life after he was threatened for refusing to sign-off of on approvals for Libyan patients to get unauthorized treatments, including one by an elderly man for erectile dysfunction.
“I found no other way but to go public with documents about what is happening. I am not seeking problems but concern from pseudo-patients who are plotting against me for refusing to sign permissions to them,” he wrote. Abul Kassem said he needed a police escort to protect him after being assaulted by angry Libyan patients.
Jordanian private hospitals are a favorite medical tourism destination for patients from Yemen, the oil rich Gulf States, Sudan, Libya and other countries with less advanced medical infrastructure. In 2010, Jordan treated some 200,000 health tourists, 90% of whom came from the region, but the Arab Spring hurt the business, with the number falling to 180,000 in 2011. The Libyans started arriving just in time to fill beds.
Jordan’s influential industry group, the Private Hospitals Association (PHA), has rejected accusations of profiteering, but earlier this week agreed with Libyan authorities to appoint a team of arbitrators to settle the dispute, according to Nael Adwan, the association’s president.
But the accusations of gouging do not end with the medical practitioners. Officials in the government of Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh have been also accused of using their positions to take a share of the spoils.
One unnamed cabinet minister signed a contract worth $10 million, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office allege. The sources said that under the agreement, the minister, who is a business partner of the prime minister’s son, receives 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 reports of 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.
Speaking to Jordan’s official news agency, Petra, Werikat said the government is working closely with Libyan authorities to rectify the current situation. “When the Libyan minister of health arrives this month, we will work out a way to resolve all standing issues,” the minister said this week.
While Libyans are allegedly being overcharged, Jordanians can’t find a hospital bed because high-paying Libyans are getting top priority from the private hospitals. Many patients say they now need to wait in line, sometimes for days and weeks, to see private physicians.
Adwan of the PHA admits that hospitals have had to cut some services due to the overload of patients, admitting Jordanian patients are feeling the squeeze more than ever. Officials from Jordan’s Health Ministry said most private hospitals in Amman and nearby cities are running with 100% capacity amid the growing influx of injured Libyans.