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Brosse Street Journal » Business and Economy:

Insurance matter of habit
Private insurance companies are working up service packages for average Georgian customer

By Marta Ardashelia
Brosse Street Journal
Wednesday, May 30 2007
Print article  |  Mail article   

Some private insurance companies are banking on the idea that Georgians, who have lost the safety net of state-funded health care, will be willing to spend their own money to get health insurance.
Until last year, only group health insurance was available on the Georgian market. Groups of people get insurance through their employer. But last year, BCI Insurance Company started to offer individual insurance and has been successful so far. After a year, BCI - which now merges with Aldagi Insurance Company has 3,000 health insurance customers.
Alexander Omanadze, president of the Association of Georgian Private Insurance Companies, said the prospects for the development of the insurance market in Georgia are good. That's why other private insurance companies are planning to create a new health insurance program for individual consumers this year.
Today in Georgia, there are 14 private insurance companies, according to the Association of Georgian Private Insurance Companies. Their contribution to Georgia's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the third quarter of 2006 was approximately USD 9.6 million, according to the Department of Statistics of Georgia.
The government used to provide health insurance, but that was during the Soviet period. Now there is only "social insurance," government financing for those who are needy.
The two largest insurance companies are Aldagi-BCI and GPI-Holding, which is a member of Vienna insurance group, according to the Department of Statistics of Georgia. Aldagi's market share in the third quarter of 2006 was 22.7 percent and GPI - Holding's share was 21.3 percent.
All private insurance companies in Georgia work the same way. The customer chooses the type of insurance he wants and, according to the number of services and type of coverage, pays a monthly fee or premium. The minimum amount of this premium is about USD 1.70. After choosing the services, the customer receives a plastic card and can get medical services in clinics contracted by the insurance company.
Currently, it is impossible for an individual to get health insurance from GPI- Holding. Insurance is sold only to groups in companies. The minimum size of a group is five, from the same workplace. The amount of the premium is minimum USD 1.70 per month.
Tina Stambolishvili, marketing manager of GPI-Holding, said that a permanent job is a guarantee that a client can afford the insurance. Soon, belonging to a group won't be the only way to get health insurance from GPI-Holding.
"Our company is currently working on a health insurance policy for individuals that will be offered to the Georgian market during one moth. We don't want to disclose any details yet. We try to make insurance more accessible and of course, to broaden our customer market," said Stambolishvili.
The most popular insurance in GPI-Holding is health insurance, which has about 30,000 customers. In 2006, GPI-Holding paid out USD 2.7 million for insurance claims by clients.
The emergence of insurance companies in the Georgian market is a relatively new trend. In the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia had only one Georgian private insurance company - Aldagi. It sold only car insurance, mostly for public transport vehicles, and had a monopoly in that field. Now other insurance companies also sell car insurance.
Ekaterina Lotuashvili, the head of the retail department at Aldagi-BCI Assistance, said she could not say how many cars the company insures.
"It is really hard to figure out all the amount of insured cars since the company has existed. I think we are still the leader in this field," said Lotuashvili.
Aldagi, like GPI-Holding, didn't offer health insurance to individuals.
But since this year Aldagi merges with BCI to become one company, Aldagi-BCI Assistance. Omanadze said the market for insurance is developing quickly.
"But most of the people who have health insurance are employees in foreign companies. These companies often insure their own staff," said Omanadze.
The Mishveladze family is a customer of GPI-Holding.
The family pays USD 105 monthly for insurance for the five-person family. Shavleg Mishveladze, the father, gets the insurance for family from his working place - Lukoil Company.
"I have three daughters - one 13 years old and 4-year-old twins NiNi and Lizi. You can imagine how much I spend only for medicine," said Mishveladze.
"It's true. Only for one vaccination you have to pay about USD 47. To be insured is more affordable," said his wife, Eka Mishveladze.
The Laliashvili family also has health insurance package "Chemebi-health" in BCI - Aldagi Assistance. Nikoloz Laliashvili, father, also gets his insurance from his working place - PA - Consulting.
"Insurance makes me feel protectability of my family," said Laliashvili.
"We have insurance only 3 months. Every month I have to make examination to my 2 years old son - Sandro and some analysis for me. If earlier we expend for if about 175, now we have a insurance," said his wife, Maka Laliashvili.
Tamar Mania, 33 years old and single, isn't insured. She says it's probably costly to get insurance.
" I was really never interested in insurance, but also from commercials, I don't get any information about insurance services, that makes me want to get insurance. I think maybe it is convenient for families," she said.
Natella Gologua, a former lecturer in Medicine Institute, says that she can't afford insurance for her family.
"Of course this is a good way out from unforeseen situations, but because of unemployment, it is hard to pay monthly fees for insurance " said Gologua.

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