For members


Should you buy supplemental health insurance in Switzerland?

Complementary insurance pays for services not included in the basic coverage. Whether or not you should purchase this policy depends on what your needs are.

Should you buy supplemental health insurance in Switzerland?
Supplemental health insurance may be useful in Switzerland. Photo by HANNAH MCKAY / POOL / AFP

What’s the difference between basic and supplemental insurance?

Switzerland’s compulsory basic health insurance (KVG / LaMal) covers a wide variety of treatments.

Among them are doctor’s care and hospital stay, medical tests, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, nutritional counselling, speech therapy, mental health therapy, chiropractic therapy, rehabilitation therapy, and prescribed medications.

Basically, anything your doctor orders, the insurance will pay for, with the exception of experimental drugs or treatments which have not been approved in Switzerland.

Additionally, if you get sick or have an accident abroad, KVG / LaMal  will pay the costs of emergency treatment in a foreign hospital, up to twice the amount that the same treatment would cost in your canton of residence.

There are some out-of-pocket expenses you are expected to pay. Only after your chosen deductible amount  (“franchise”) has been reached does the insurance company start to pay out.

But after the deductible is reached, you will still have to pay 10 percent of treatment and medication costs, up to 700 francs for adults and 350 for children per year.

There is also a 15-franc per day charge for hospital stays.

READ MORE: Five tips for getting cheaper health insurance in Switzerland 

What about the supplemental insurance?

This type of insurance offers certain benefits that KVG / LaMal covers only partly, or not at all. This includes complementary treatments such as:

  • Memberships or passes for gyms and swimming pools.
  • Home nursing services and domestic help
  • Glasses and contact lenses
  • Medical accessories and devices
  • Emergency transport and transfer transport as well as rescue and salvage costs
  • Cost of dental treatment, corrective dentistry and maxillofacial surgery
  • Wellness services such as massage therapy

Additionally, it may cover alternative medicine treatments and psychotherapy performed by therapists without medical training. 

The cost of the supplementary insurance may vary from one company to another and is likely to be limited to a maximum amount you can spend per calendar year.

You can take out this policy from any of the dozens of insurance carriers in Switzerland — not necessarily the one where you have your basic coverage.

And unlike the compulsory coverage, there are no deductibles for supplementary insurance.

Can anyone in Switzerland buy supplemental insurance?

Depending on your medical history and current health, it may be difficult or expensive.

While insurance companies must offer the same obligatory KVG / LaMal  coverage to everyone, regardless of health status, carriers can deny supplemental benefits to people deemed ‘at risk’.

This includes those with pre-existing medical conditions or history of repeated treatments.

So if you are relatively healthy and have no chronic illnesses necessitating frequent treatments, you will not have a problem getting supplemental coverage.

But if you have a record of illnesses, your pre-existing conditions may be excluded from coverage, or else the premium might be very high.

To see what your chances are of getting these additional perks, and how much they would cost, you can go on some insurance sites and fill out the questionnaires, such as here and here.

EXPLAINED: How to change your health insurance carrier in Switzerland and save money 

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For members


UPDATE: What are Switzerland’s rules for cannabis consumption?

Switzerland has a complicated set of rules for both medical and recreational cannabis consumption. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATE: What are Switzerland's rules for cannabis consumption?

Long prohibited and seen as a gateway drug with potentially dangerous impacts, countries across the globe have begun legalising cannabis in recent years. 

While the legalisation for medical use has been widespread, there have also been successful legalisation campaigns in several countries. 

The situation in Switzerland is also in flux and has been complicated by a range of recent changes.

Whether referred to as cannabis, marijuana or hemp, Switzerland’s Narcotics Act qualifies it as “a psychoactive substance”, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being its most intoxicating ingredient.

The law specifies that “only THC is controlled under the Narcotics Act. Other active substances like cannabidiol (CBD) are not subject to the Narcotics Act as they do not have comparable psychoactive effects”.

Here’s what you need to know. 

Switzerland has legalised medical marijuana 

As of August 1st, the use of cannabis for medical purposes will be allowed in Switzerland

Patients who are medically prescribed the drug will no longer need to seek exceptional permission from the health ministry, as was the case prior to August 1st. 

Demand for cannabis-based treatments has risen sharply, with the health ministry issuing 3,000 exceptional authorisations in 2019.

The government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients” and was therefore lifting the ban on its use for that purpose, it said in a statement.

The previous procedure involved “tedious administrative procedures”, said the ministry. “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy.”

As of August 1st, “the decision as to whether a cannabis medicinal product is to be used therapeutically will be made by the doctor together with the patient” the government wrote

The sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes will remain prohibited.

READ MORE: Switzerland to lift ban on medical use cannabis

The new regulations could benefit thousands of people suffering from severe chronic pain, it added, including those with cancer and multiple sclerosis.

READ ALSO: Why Basel is about to become Switzerland’s marijuana capital

The law change will also mean that the cultivation, processing, manufacture and trade of cannabis for medical use will be subject to the Swissmedic regulatory authority, just as with other narcotics for medical use such as cocaine, methadone and morphine.

Legality of recreational cannabis is determined by the THC

THC of at least 1 percent is generally prohibited in Switzerland and use of products with this (or higher) content may be punishable by a 100-franc fine.

Of course, if someone is determined to smoke it, 100 francs may not be much a deterrent — but that’s a subject for another article.

“By contrast, possession of up to 10g of cannabis for personal use is not considered a criminal offence”, the law states, as long as it is not used by or sold to minors.

Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

And, as with nearly everything else in decentralised Switzerland, “there are still considerable differences between cantons regarding implementation of the fixed penalty procedure”.

However, “cannabis flowers intended for smoking with a high proportion of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than 1 percent THC can be sold and purchased legally”, according to the legislation. 

That’s because, unlike the THC, cannabidiol “does not have a psychoactive effect”.

In other words, low-content THC and CBD will not give the “high” that recreational users seek.

When will Switzerland legalise recreational cannabis?

Currently, small amounts of recreational cannabis are tolerated in Switzerland.

“The decisive factor for classification as a banned drug is how much THC is contained in a cannabis product. If the THC content exceeds one per cent, the product is prohibited. Hashish is prohibited regardless of its THC content.”

As noted by the Swiss government, “If you are caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis (no more than 10 grams) for your own consumption, you will not be fined. In addition, if you supply (but do not sell) up to 10 grams to an adult, e.g. when sharing joints, you will not be fined.”

“If you are caught using cannabis, you may be given a fixed penalty fine of 100 francs.”

In June 2020, the National Council approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use.

The experiments are to be carried out in Switzerland’s larger cities. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in conducting the trials. 

The study seeks to find out how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation will also be examined. 

At this point, no decisions have been made. However, Swiss authorities have set certain conditions in case recreational use is approved.

The National Council said if cannabis were to be legalised, it must be locally grown in Switzerland – and it must be organic. 

Health Minister Alain Berset noted that legalisation should benefit Swiss farmers even though “very few producers have experience in this area”.

READ MORE: Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials – with one condition

Can you grow your own cannabis?

In truth, a number of people cultivate marijuana plants on their balconies or in their (secluded) gardens for their own personal use.

As it turns out, the law allows it, as long as it is a variety of the plant that does not have a narcotic effect — that is, the THC content must be less than 1 percent. 

By the same token, cannabis-based products with THC content of below 1 percent can be brought into Switzerland from abroad.

However, the import rules differ depending on the type of product  it is — flowers, seeds, extracts, oils, or other goods.

How much cannabis is consumed in Switzerland each year?

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but according to an article in Le Temps, which based its information on a medical study, about 100 tonnes are consumed in the country annually.

Cannabis remains the largest market in terms of volume: it represents 85 percent of drugs consumed in Switzerland, netting between 340, 000 and 500,000 francs per year.

READ MORE: Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?