Using The Healthcare System In Switzerland – A Short Guide For Expats
The Swiss healthcare system, known as LAMal, is reputed across Europe for providing top-quality health services and facilities to residents. Switzerland spends approximately 10 percent of its GDP on healthcare and the country ranks among the top OECD countries for medical expenditure. This policy of investing in healthcare ensures that citizens receive a variety of medical services that employ modern technologies. It also translates into a highly trained medical staff and a very low patient-to-doctor ratio. Switzerland has one of the highest life expectancy figures and one of the lowest infant mortality figures in the world.In Switzerland, private health insurance is made compulsory for all those living in the country. This is unlike other countries like the US and the UK, where residents are required to avail only of employer- or government-sponsored health insurance. According to Swiss regulations, the private insurance providers in the country cannot refuse coverage to anyone. Even non-residents and people with a history of chronic illness are eligible for private coverage. Expats will find the system extremely convenient here, as they can receive medical care from doctors and hospitals of their choice. Also, there is rarely any waiting time and the treatment is of high quality. But remember that all of this is only made possible by the high premiums that one is required to pay every month.
Public hospitals in Switzerland are modern, hygienic and on par with facilities in other European countries. The medical staff at such hospitals is usually well versed in English and also the local language. A standard health insurance policy covers most of the services that are provided by public hospitals. In case there is a requirement for any specialist treatments, further insurance coverage or additional fees may be charged.
Public and private hospitals have the same high standards in Switzerland. But treatment in private facilities may be slightly quicker. Many private hospitals also specialize in certain treatments. Private health services are covered under more comprehensive insurance coverage and the monthly premiums are likely to be higher.
Acquiring health insurance
Expats are required to acquire health insurance within three months of residence in Switzerland. This must be private health insurance that is separate from insurance provided by an employer. The Swiss government releases a list of treatments that are included under basic health insurance every year and insurance providers must offer this to their clients. A basic health insurance package like this includes most of the cost of medical care and hospitalization fees. Not included in this package are dental treatment costs and fees for semi-private and private hospital rooms. To avail of these services, separate health coverage is required. Basic coverage includes costs of prescription drugs, but some additional charges may be present for name-brand products. Most medicines are available at pharmacies and if a product is unavailable, the pharmacies usually place an order for it. There are pharmacies even in the smallest towns and villages in the country. All-night pharmacies are mainly located in the big cities and towns.
In Switzerland, insurance premiums are based on community areas in the cantons and not on income level. There is usually a choice between a few insurers in each canton. There is very less competition amongst insurers since they are not permitted to make a profit. However expats should be aware that there is likely to be a considerable difference in costs of the same insurance coverage from one canton to another. But in cases where the monthly premium costs amounts to 8 percent of an individual’s income, the government provides cash subsidies. There are also reduced premium costs applicable to children and young adults. Another point to remember is that you need to acquire separate health insurance for each family member.
In case of an emergency, the number to dial is 144. Emergency services in Switzerland are of a high quality with well-equipped ambulances and trained staff. Such services are covered under a separate insurance coverage called Accident Insurance Scheme. This is a mandatory insurance package and is paid for by deductions from an individual’s income. Self-employed or unemployed individuals can avail of the scheme by acquiring an add-on to their existing coverage.