The German healthcare system has a reputation as one of the best in the world. Modern technology, short waiting lists for treatment and a statutory health insurance scheme contribute to a stable and robust system.
Despite this, healthcare is never ‘free’ in Germany. Any care you receive, even in emergencies, has to be paid for by your insurer. If you are insured by a statutory provider, simply showing your insurance card will cover up to 100% of the costs, depending on the treatment you need. Equipping yourself with the right health insurance when moving to Germany should therefore be a high priority.
What to consider when choosing German health insurance
Depending on your salary, you may be able to choose between statutory and private health insurance. In some cases the private insurance may cost less in premiums, though the statutory insurance may compensate for this difference by covering 100% of costs, as mentioned above. Make sure you understand the differences between statutory and private health insurance before making your choice.
To understand the main differences between the two systems, you should bear in mind that state and private insurance work on completely different contribution models:
- State health insurance contributions are based on your gross income. Students can use a special insurance scheme that offers favourable rates.
- Private health insurance contributions are based on your risk profile, e.g. age, and not on your income. For example, women and older people generally pay higher contributions than young men. This is due to a calculation of the average cost for medical treatment for different groups. The older you are, the less attractive it thus becomes to opt for a private insurance.
If you decide on a private insurer, make sure you are well aware of what they do and do not cover. A good starting point is to gather information about what you should look for in a health insurance plan. Make an estimate of your healthcare needs to avoid paying for cover you don’t need, or worse, paying out-of-pocket for something that isn’t included in your policy.
But what are the advantages/disadvantages of the two systems? There is no simple answer to this question, as it depends heavily on your personal circumstances. To help, we have listed below some of the advantages and disadvantages:
Advantages of statutory health insurance:
- High level of care with general practitioners, specialists and psychotherapists
- Direct access to free medical services (predicated on the condition that they are authorized in the statutory health insurance)
- Insures your family at no extra charge
Disadvantages of statutory health insurance:
- Additional co-payment has been increasing for a variety of medical treatments and medicines
- Only a portion of the costs for items such as dental/orthodontic treatment and glasses are covered
Advantages of private health insurance:
- Provide more extensive cover, for example, private hospitals, alternative therapies such as acupuncture and glasses
Disadvantages of private health insurance:
- Privately insured patients must pay in advance and later submit the bill for reimbursement
- Each family member is individually insured
Local or international insurance?
You and your family are entitled to the same level of healthcare throughout the European Union (EU) as that which you receive in Germany. This is provided through the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which all residents of Germany are eligible for.
When you are traveling to non-EU countries, you will not be covered by statutory German health insurance. In such cases, supplementary travel insurance is highly recommended.
If you are a frequent traveler or are planning on moving abroad again in the future, an international health insurance plan is also a sensible option.
High quality customer service, in English
For many expats, one of the most essential aspects of any insurance policy is the customer service provided. Clear communication and transparency help to ease anxieties about any hidden or additional costs, while a well-implemented customer service makes dealing with healthcare issues and insurance claims simple.
Finding high-quality customer service in English isn’t easy in Germany. Health insurers like SBK provide each expat a personal English speaking personal consultant, who acts as a direct point of contact for any questions you have, be it about a stay in hospital, going abroad or family insurance. As for the most part, the contribution and the benefits of the insurers are comparable, it’s important to ensure you receive the best possible service.