Obviously, we don’t want you to be sick. But if you or your family need a physician, you will find that help is available quickly and at a reasonable cost. Germany has a dense network of hospitals, physicians and pharmacies. Thanks to compulsory health insurance, necessary treatments are affordable for all. In this section we describe what health insurance covers, how you can find a physician and what to do in an emergency. When you first come to Germany, you will need travel health insurance before you are covered by statutory health insurance.
As an employee, you definitely have health insurance – either under the statutory health insurance system or as a member of a private health insurance.
If you become ill, health insurance covers the cost of medical treatment. The statutory health insurance system includes the following benefits:
- outpatient medical treatment, for example in a physician’s office
- dental care
- medication, remedies and medical devices
- inpatient medical treatment, for example in a hospital
- medically necessary rehabilitation
- services during pregnancy and childbirth
If your spouse is not employed, he or she may be covered under your statutory health insurance policy at no extra charge to you. The same holds true for your children. Moreover, your health insurance policy automatically includes long-term care insurance. Your long-term care insurance is activated if, for example, you need nursing care because of a serious illness that prevents you from caring for yourself.
What is a health insurance card?
As soon as you become a member of a statutory health insurance, you will receive an electronic health insurance card documenting your membership. The card includes a photo and an electronic record of your name, date of birth, address, policy number and insurance status. It must be submitted whenever you see your physician so that your health insurance can be billed for treatment. Your health insurance card is valid in all 27 EU countries as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. This means that if you become ill in one of these countries while on holiday or a business trip, your health insurance card gives you access to medical treatment there. Before travelling abroad, it is a good idea to contact your health insurance to find out what to do in an emergency.
Visiting your physician
In Germany, you may choose your own physician. In most cases your first visit is to your general practitioner. If necessary, he or she will refer you to a specialist or arrange for you to be admitted to a hospital. To find the right physician, consult the following:
- the website of your town or city
- the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Weisse Liste (White List)
- Unabhängige Patientenberatung (Independent Advice for Patients)
- the website of your state’s Kassenärztliche Vereinigung (Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, KV)
- the telephone book under “Physicians” or the telephone book website
When you have found a physician, call his or her office and make an appointment; this avoids a long wait. In urgent cases, however, you can walk in without an appointment.
What if you need a physician after hours?
You need medical care, but your physician’s office is closed? In that case, dial 116 117 for an on-call physician; the number is valid throughout Germany. The call is free from land lines and mobile phones, and is available to all patients with statutory or private health insurance. In case of an emergency – a life-threatening situation – you should instead dial the emergency number 112.
The cost of an office visit
As a patient covered by statutory health insurance, you will have almost no out-of-pocket expenses. Rather than billing you, your physician will submit a bill directly to your health insurance.
Medications are available only in pharmacies, which display a large red sign with the letter A (for Apotheke). There are two ways to obtain medications. The first is through your physician: The physician writes a prescription, which you take to the pharmacy, where you receive your medication. Prescription medications cost you a co-payment only; the rest is covered by your health insurance. The second way is to go directly to the pharmacy, where you can find over-the-counter medications (not requiring a prescription). In this case you must pay the full amount.
If you are admitted to hospital
Germany has public hospitals, private clinics and charitable hospitals run by church relief organisations; many larger cities have university hospitals as well. As a rule, your general practitioner will arrange to have you admitted to hospital; only in an emergency should you go there directly. Your health insurance will normally cover the costs of your hospital stay. Since hospitalisation can be very expensive, however, it is a good idea to determine in advance whether all of your treatment costs are covered.
What to do in case of emergency?
In case of emergency, you have two alternatives:
- In life-threatening or other serious situations, or if you are uncertain, dial 112, which connects you with the emergency medical service. The number is valid throughout Germany. An ambulance will arrive within 15 minutes. The emergency number is toll-free.
- If the situation is not quite as serious, you can go directly to a hospital A&E department. A&E departments are open day and night.
At the weekend, on holidays or during the night, on-call help is available from a hospital, physician or pharmacy in your area. Many newspapers publish daily listings of the physicians and pharmacies that are on call.
Vaccinations and preventative care
Of course, it’s much better not to get sick. Vaccinations and health screenings can prevent many illnesses. Vaccinations are not required in Germany, but some are recommended; health insurance covers their cost. Information about recommended vaccinations is available from the Federal Centre for Health Education or your physician.
A vaccination record shows the diseases against which you have been vaccinated. Various screenings are also available, some of them required by law. For infants and children, there are the U1 to U9 screenings, which help to identify developmental disorders and illnesses at an early stage so that they can be treated. There are numerous screenings for adults as well, for skin cancer and dental problems, for example. Statutory health insurances often offer a bonus if you are regularly screened.