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German Healthcare Terms Expats Should Know

Moving to a foreign country can be daunting, especially when you don’t know much about the new land’s laws and regulations. On top of that, if you are not well-versed with the language of your new country of residence, you are bound to feel confused and most likely overwhelmed.

Keeping that in mind, we decided to share everything about the German healthcare system for expats living in Germany. Germany has one of the oldest healthcare systems in Europe, dating back to the 1880s, and is now ranked among the best in the entire European region. Anyone living in the country can access the medical facilities offered by the state through health insurance Germany

Sponsored by state-funded programs, healthcare in Germany is accessible to all. But that’s not all; people can (and do) acquire some of the best private health insurance policies in the country to bear expenses not covered by the statutory funds, such as advanced dental procedures. 

German Healthcare Terms Expats Should Know

Here are some German healthcare and related terms you should know as an expat:

  • Arzt (doctor) 
  • Hausarzt (GP, primary care doctor, family doctor)
  • Überweisung (referral from your GP to a specialist)
  • Rezept (prescription)
  • Krankschreibung or Attest (sick note)
  • Zahnarzt (dentist) 
  • Krankenhaus (hospital)
  • Patient (patient)
  • krank (sick)
  • Medizin or Medikament (medicine)
  • Öffentliches Krankenhaus (public hospital)
  • Frei gemeinnütziges Krankenhaus (non-profit hospital)
  • Privatkrankenhaus (private hospital)
  • Apotheke (pharmacy)
  • Heilpraktiker (alternate practitioner/naturopath)
  • Notaufnahme (emergency room)
  • Rettungswagen (fire brigade ambulance service)
  • Krankenwagen (ambulance)
  • Impfung (vaccine)
  • Krankenkasse (health insurance provider)
  • Krankenversichertenkarte (health insurance card)
  • Sozialversicherungsnummer (social security number)
  • Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung (statutory health insurance/public health insurance)
  • Private Krankenversicherung or PKV (private health insurance)

Now that you know about the common German healthcare terms, let’s understand German healthcare.

Understanding Health Insurance in Germany

While the statutory programs take care of all medical health expenses residents incur the country, they need to pay some premium for that. 

The GKV program is managed by 110 Krankenkassen (non-profit organizations that overlook GKV). Once registered with GKV, a person has to pay a premium at the rate of 14.6% of the annual gross salary (7.3% paid by the employee, the other 7.3% taken care of by the employer). All Krankenkassens must charge the same percentage of a beneficiary’s gross yearly salary. If you are asked for more, know that something is not right. 

The amount an employee has to pay for the GKV scheme cannot exceed 4350 euros a month, which is shared equally by the employee and employer. 

Once you have registered with a particular Krankenkassen, you must stay with it for at least 18 months. After the 18 months have passed, only then can you go to a different organization. 

GKV Coverage

As mentioned earlier, GKV or Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung is a federal scheme to facilitate people residing in Germany in getting access to public health. This means, if you want to get state-provided medical benefits, you must sign up with a Krankenkasse. That said, not all medical expenses are covered by said state healthcare program. 

You will receive free services from registered doctors, hospital care (both in- and out-patient) and basic dental treatment. For any advanced medical treatment, you may have to get private medical insurance or pay out of pocket

One other thing about getting registered with a Krankenkasse for GKV is that it will look after the expenses of all the non-working family members residing with you in Germany. You will not have to pay any added amount for getting the medical costs of your dependent kin covered by GKV, provided that they live with you. 

For availing the benefit of having your family’s medical expenses taken care of under GKV, you and they should share the same address that you have given to the Krankenkasse dealing your case. 

Getting German Health Insurance

Expats and permanent residents in Germany can take out public health insurance by following these steps. 

  • Registering at a nearby town hall
  • Once you are registered with the German authorities you will get a social security number, aka Sozialversicherungsnummer as called in the German language. 
  • Next you will begin paying the standard premium and have access to all public medical care amenities. 
  • You should then sign up with a local insurance fund that will provide you with a card. You will have to carry it with you to every doctor’s appointment or visit to the hospital. 

Since public health doesn’t cover all medical expenses, such as cosmetic treatments, some people choose to get private insurance. But not everyone can take it out. There are a bunch of terms and conditions that must be fulfilled if a person wishes to have private medical coverage. 

Choosing Between Private and Public Medical Insurance In Germany

By law, every person residing in Germany needs to take out private or public medical insurance. But which option of the two you pick will depend on your job status and earning. 

Statutory Healthcare in Germany is classified as compulsory (pflichtversichert) health insurance, voluntary (freiwillig versichert) health insurance and getting insured under a family plan. This classification only applies to the public scheme. As the name gives away, the former category is for people who must sign up for public health insurance or GKV while the latter is for those who are free to choose their insurance plan (between private and public). 

Who Has To Apply For Compulsory Insurance?

Compulsory public health insurance is for employees who earn less 64.350 euros per year. If your annual salary doesn’t add up to 64.350 euros or more, you are bound by law to take out a public health fund. 

Who Can Get Voluntary Insurance

Everyone who doesn’t qualify for compulsory insurance automatically becomes eligible for voluntary insurance. Still, here is a quick rundown of people who meet the criterion for freiwillig versichert. 

  • People earning more than 64.350 euros a year
  • Self-employed people or freelancers
  • Students 
  • Stay-at-home family members, primarily spouses. 

What Does Private Insurance Cover

Like in pretty much all other countries, private healthcare insurance covers a larger array of medical expenses, depending on the policy you take out. 

Beneficiaries can get a mix and match of benefits from private insurance based on their needs as you can get coverage for anything and everything. 

Some people like to have a better dental coverage program while others might go for having private rooms or even both. One of the most appealing aspects of private medical insurance is that you can get appointments with specialists much faster than if you are under public health coverage. 

In the public scheme, or GKV, patients will have a general physician or primary care doctor (Hausarzt) assigned to them, which they can choose themselves. This doctor will examine patients and refer them to specialists if need be. 

But since specialists typically have appointments lined up for months in advance, people with public health insurance have to wait for their turn, which can take a while.  

Hospital and Other Medical Services in Germany

If you are registered under GKV, you can access all public healthcare facilities as a German citizen. 

Whether you have public medical insurance or took out private insurance, you should have some basic idea about the hospitals and medical facilities in Germany. To educate you on the topic, here is a quick overview of healthcare organizations in the country.

There are three types of hospitals (Krankenhäuser) in Germany

  • Public, owned and managed by government authorities
  • Non-profit, owned and managed by charitable organizations or churches
  • Private, owned and run by a private association. 

Mother Care and Pregnancy Care Services

Since going through pregnancy and subsequent childbirth is arguably the most common medical need, knowing about the services available for it is important. 

All pregnancy related issues are covered by public health insurance, including sexual, fertility and urological matters. On the contrary, in the case of private insurance, some pregnancy-related expenses may not be covered, depending on the program you choose. So, be sure to go through all your options and pick the best program for yourself. 

Contraceptive items, such as birth control pills, and IUDs must be prescribed by a gynecologist while emergency contraceptives can be bought over the counter. 

Ending Note

The German healthcare system is among the most advanced in the world. If you want to have access to it, be sure to sign up for medical insurance, private or public, as early as possible. And if you are an expat living here, look up expat health insurance Germany to not miss out on any healthcare amenities and services. 

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