Healthcare in Austria: Public, private, or both?
The healthcare system in Austria is two-tier. There is the publicly funded system that is available to everyone, and the private system.
Whilst many people have access to the public system they often choose to have top-up private healthcare insurance.
The system began in 1956 and was known as the General Social Insurance Law or ASVG. Since then it has gone on to become one of the best in the world with the World Health Organisation ranking it as 9th in the mid-2000s. In 2015 it spent the fifth highest percentage of GDP in Europe at 11.2%.
The system is considered a good system and is free to all individuals that pay into the social insurance scheme. It does have fairly high waiting times with delays for operations between 1-12 months although many are done within 3-6 months.
Many people choose the private system to avoid the wait.
Funding of healthcare
The public healthcare system in Austria is financed by a healthcare insurance or sickness insurance which is known as the Krankenkasse. The system is available to all residents and residents of the EU. Expats are entitled to treatment as long as you have the correct documentation. For EU residents you will, of course, need an EHIC card. For those travelling from outside the EU, you need to check the agreements between your country and Austria.
Residents are automatically insured when they are employed, retired and drawing a pension or receiving unemployment benefit. Children are also covered.
In 2015 Austria was the 5th highest spending country in Europe when it came to percentage of GDP.
The private system enables people to get seen quicker and avoid the wait time of the public system but is not necessary to receive health or medical treatment.
As long as citizens are paying into the Krankenkasse, then healthcare in Austria is free and universal. Expats can arrive in the country, start work and begin paying into the scheme.
Employees and self-employed alike are expected to contribute to the scheme.
For employees, they are expected to make monthly contributions through their salary. Self-employed and contractors will need to arrange to make voluntary contributions. The amount that you are expected to pay is dependent on your salary.
There is a charge for prescriptions although this is subsidised by the Austrian healthcare scheme. What you may find is that some ordinarily available medicines in your home country, need to be prescribed in Austria.
If you are relocating with work, you may have health coverage as part of your remuneration package. It is important to check the level of cover that you have.
How to use the service
To use the Austrian healthcare service you need to be either paying into the Krankenkasse or be in possession of the necessary documentation. For EU residents this will be an EHIC card. For those outside of Europe, you need to check the relevant agreements between your country and Austria.
To register for healthcare on arrival here are the steps that you need to take:
- When you arrive in Austria, you need to enrol with a Gebietskrankenkasse or district health insurance fund within your first week of starting work.
- If you are self-employed, then you need to register for social insurance via Social Insurance for the Industrial Economy or Sozialversicherung der gewerblichen Wirtschaft
- You will be issued with a green e-card. This is a very important document and should be carried on your person at all times. Children are covered by their parent’s insurance.
- You can only use state-approved doctors. You will know which ones you can use as they will display “Alle Kassen” or “Kassenarzt”.
In an emergency, there is a standard number to call across Europe. This number is 112 and gets you through to the emergency services. If you need an ambulance in an emergency, this should be your first port of call.
Do you need to take out insurance?
It is up to the individual as to whether you need to take out health insurance. Some people prefer to do it for peace of mind.
If you are travelling from a country outside of the EU and are unsure as to whether you are eligible for public treatment, then you may prefer to take out private healthcare insurance. Some may be offered as part of a relocation package in which case you may as well take advantage of it.
Other people choose to use the insurance to complement the public system for hospital treatment or certain operations or procedures with long waiting times. You may just want to choose insurance until you are fully registered as residents.
Be mindful that an EHIC card doesn’t always cover every aspect of treatment and that additional health insurance may still be required.