Italy’s troubled healthcare system

The Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN)

Italy’s troubled healthcare system

The SSN, founded in 1978, was created with the aim of providing the entire population of Italy with efficient and uniform healthcare. Citizens and expat residents are entitled to free or low-cost healthcare, but in recent years the system has been struggling to keep the population healthy amid budget cuts, rising drug prices, and an ageing population.

Following the financial crash in 2010, Italy’s healthcare system was one of the worst hit. While other countries increased spending in the sector, Italy cut theirs between 2011 and 2014 . To put the financial woes of the SSN in perspective, 2016 saw 18 out of the 20 Italian regions exceed their annual health budget within just the first six months of the year.

What effect is it having?

The ageing population, rising drug prices and a slashed health budget means Italy is struggling to keep its citizens and residents healthy through the SSN.

A looming threat of a doctors’ strike remains ever-present in Italy, with several postponed in 2016 after protracted negotiations. The spending cuts and a hiring freeze in hospitals has led to doctors feeling overworked and underpaid, with the proposed strikes looking to bring attention to these issues.

Medicinal advances could slow as drugmakers are threatening to pull out of Italy. The cost of speciality medicines in Europe is constantly rising, and in Italy it has been taking a serious chunk out of the health budget. Alongside a limited adoption of cheaper alternatives, this is creating difficulty in accessing drugs and other medicines in Italy.

The overall effect is that the SSN is slipping in standards, relative to the country’s European neighbours. While individuals cannot opt out of the SSN, around 15% of the population have decided to have some form of supplementary health insurance .

What should expats in Italy do?

The SSN includes expat residents in the provision of free or low-cost healthcare. We do recommend that all expats relocating to countries where the healthcare system is in a state of disruption take out some form of health insurance. Non-EU residents are actually required to take out private health insurance before applying for a visa or residency permit.

When considering which insurer to choose, expats should look into an international health insurer, such as Cigna Global . If you’re planning on taking advantage of your move to visit other countries, or will possibly move to another expat destination, their large network of hospitals will likely have you covered no matter where you end up.

When choosing a health insurance provider, check that they cover the items that are not covered by the Italian SSN, which includes certain procedures and medicines. Take some time to learn the basics of what to look for in a health insurance plan  and make sure you stay covered abroad.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: