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How to save money on your Swiss health insurance

Each year, some 600,000 Swiss residents switch health insurance providers to save money on their monthly healthcare premiums. Find out if you should join them - and what you stand to gain.

How to save money on your Swiss health insurance
Photo: Depositphotos

The desk research required to compare health insurance providers is time-consuming and, for expats, it’s even more mind-boggling to try to figure out the important differences between the 60-plus Swiss health insurers.

Before we get into how and when to make a switch, let’s consider the reasons why you might want to do so in the first place.

Reducing the premium of basic health insurance

Every fall, Switzerland assesses the state of health insurance. Various factors contribute to the premium level of the upcoming year, and it can easily go up by several percent. Since it is up to each insurer to decide how much they want to raise their policies, you can save money by making a timely switch.

Click here to start building your custom healthcare plan with Expat Savvy

Another way to save on premiums is to change your health insurance plan. For example, you can expect a lower your premium if you are willing to accept a restriction on your choice of doctors, and most insurers will offer you a discount if you pay your premiumas a lump sum at the beginning of the year.

Photo: Depositphotos

Changing health insurance needs

Life has a habit of changing and what you need from your Swiss health insurance will too. Sooner or later, you may want to whiten your teeth or treat yourself to a massage. Supplementary policies are often the most cost-efficient way of covering these extras.

If you want to minimize your health insurance costs, it’s good to know that supplementary policies are not tied to your basic insurance policy – so you can go ahead with whatever insurer offers you the best deal. However, also keep in mind that the issuer of your basic policy might give you a discount if you sign up with them for supplementary coverage.

Changes in family structure or primary residence

As most Swiss residents are well aware, premiums for basic health insurance vary depending on the age of the insured. Like elsewhere in Europe, the three official age groups are children up to 18 years, young adults from 19 to 25 years, and adults above 26 years.

Let independent insurance advisory Expat Savvy help you assess your current health insurance policy

Every time someone in your family crosses the threshold into a new age group, you should be sure to assess their basic coverage. This is particularly important if you have a teenager about to turn 18 since it means that your insurance company is no longer required by law to offer your son or daughter a reduced premium.

If you have or are about to move to another community or canton in Switzerland, this is another good opportunity to make sure you are not paying more than you need to. This is because basic health coverage and premiums vary considerably depending on where in the country you live in.

Photo: Depositphotos

Higher service levels

While Swiss law regulates the coverage of basic insurance, the difference between insurers often lies in the level of their service. Some of the least expensive insurers tend to outsource administrative work to their policyholders. Manually typing up health expenses and mailing in receipts is not everyone’s cup of tea – but biting the bullet could give you a much lower premium.

Many Swiss health insurers now offer online account management, health advice by chat, and even proprietary smartphone apps for scanning of invoices. These digital tools could save you a lot of time at a relatively low cost.

Switching basic health insurance providers

It’s important to understand that there are different procedures and deadlines for the termination of basic and supplementary insurance policies.

If you are hoping to switch insurance providers without having to pay penalty fees, you must terminate your basic health insurance policy and at the same time sign up for a new one before November 30, 2019. Your new policy will then come into effect on January 1, 2020.

Switching supplementary insurance plans

The termination of supplementary insurance plans depends on any contractual agreements written into the policy. Insurers can define different notice periods which you need to adhere to. Also, you may be obliged to pay termination fees.

If you are unsure whether you can benefit from switching health insurance provider, get in touch with an independent insurance advisory such as Expat Savvy for an expert assessment. Expat-Savvy helps many new and established expats to get the best deal on their Swiss health insurance. The insurance consultancy company prides itself on its ongoing relationships with clients, spanning from their first medical insurance to optimising their premiums, specialized retirement plans, and everything in between.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Expat Savvy.

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Why getting rescued in the Swiss Alps could cost you thousands

With holidays just around the corner, many mountain enthusiasts will be heading for the Alpine peaks. An important thing to remember is that even in the summer, accidents can happen and mountain rescue in Switzerland can come at a high price.

Why getting rescued in the Swiss Alps could cost you thousands

It is true that statistically most mishaps in the mountains are related to winter sports — skiing, snowboarding and the like.

About 50,000 accidents a year are recorded in the Swiss Alps each winter, “the vast majority of which are linked to skiing and snowboarding, the two disciplines that also generate the highest costs”, according to Swiss National Accident Insurance Fund (SUVA).

While summer mountain activities seem to be less risky, accidents can — and do — happen nevertheless. Again according to SUVA, such popular activities as base jumping, rock climbing, or hiking on unsteady surfaces can result in accidents.

In fact, the mere fact of just hiking can prove dangerous: every year, some people are attacked by cows while strolling in the mountains. One such case involved two hikers who were knocked to the ground by a cow in Nidwalden — an incident which inflicted bruises and shock on the hikers (the cow was fine).

But you don’t have to be an extreme sports enthusiast or approach cattle to sustain injuries in the mountains — just ask David, a UK national living in Vaud.

In July 2021, David rode his mountain bike near Arosa, Graubünden, when he hit a rock and fell into a metre-deep crack, breaking his foot in the process. Passersby called for help.

“A helicopter came and three people got me out of the ditch, stabilised me ,and airlifted me to the nearest hospital”, he said

The final bill just for the rescue amounted to 3,200 francs.

While it may seem like a steep price for a service that “took one hour tops”, this sum is not exorbitant or even unreasonable.

What you should know

Mountain rescues are generally provided by air ambulance services such as Rega, Air Glaciers or Air Zermatt. All three work on a subscription model, meaning people can become donors, which could, in certain cases, lower the cost of a rescue.

As Rega, the largest of the three services, noted on its website, it can, “at its own discretion and within the bounds of its resources, waive or reduce the costs of any emergency services”.

This was not the case for David who had no subscription, but has taken out one since the accident.

READ MORE: Rega: What you need to know about Switzerland’s air rescue service

Mountain biking can sometimes be dangerous. Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

The exact cost of the rescue varies according to three criteria, Rega spokesperson Emilie Pralong told Le Temps newspaper in an interview.

These criteria are “the duration of the mission, the transport costs (pilot, paramedic, helicopter), and the services of the emergency doctor”.

At a rate of around 100 francs per minute of flight, the bill can quickly skyrocket but in the easily accessible mountain area (as was the case for David) ranges from 2,500 to 3,500 francs charged to the patient.

Does health insurance bear at least part of these costs?

Unlike its Alpine neighbour Austria, where public health insurance will pay for mountain air rescue only if the patient is in danger of death, things are a bit different in Switzerland, where health insurance is private.

In Switzerland, the mandatory accident insurance paid by the employer covers the cost of rescues, even if you are not physically injured, according to Moneyland.ch consumer website.

On the other hand, for children, pensioners or people without professional activity, “the compulsory health insurance will cover half of rescue costs up to the maximum amount of 5,000 francs per calendar year,” said Pascal Vuistiner, spokesperson for Groupe Mutuel’s Romandie.

There are also additional insurance policies that will cover unpaid costs, including those incurred abroad, especially as the basic Swiss plan only covers rescues in Switzerland.

For instance, many supplemental health plans include some coverage for search and rescue costs, medical transportation, and repatriation.

Coverage for search and rescue operations is typically limited, ranging between 10,000 and 100,000 francs. Many (but not all) Swiss supplemental health insurance offers include unlimited coverage for ambulance transportation and repatriation to Switzerland for medical care.

READ MORE : Should you buy supplemental health insurance in Switzerland?  

Coverage for search and rescue and/or emergency medical transportation is also part of many travel insurances.

However, “with very few exceptions, coverage for search and rescue operations is limited. Maximum benefits can be as low as just 5,000 francs, or as high as 60,000 francs”, according to Moneyland.

In David’s case, most of the costs of his airlift, surgery, hospital stay and post-op physical therapy were covered by the above-mentioned insurance policies. The only thing hurt in the long run is his pride, as this was the only fall the experienced mountain biker has suffered in his life.

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