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European healthcare: how does your country rank?

Most healthcare systems in Europe offer a good level of care. But which countries spend the most money on healthcare? Which do well in independent ratings? And which regions have the best life expectancy?

European healthcare: how does your country rank?
Photo: Getty Images

There are significant variations between countries in terms of these factors. If you’re an international resident, knowing a little about these differences could help you better understand the health system in your adopted homeland.

In partnership with international insurance broker ASN, The Local presents a guide to some of the key differences in European healthcare that every expat needs to know.

Hey big (healthcare) spender…

For you, healthcare is all about your well-being and that of your loved ones – something nobody can put a price on. But staying healthy is a priority for everybody. Looked at on a national basis, spending on healthcare is therefore a major topic of debate wherever you live.

Comprehensive global health coverage to fit your life: find out more from ASN

Some governments spend significantly more on healthcare than others. The level of private coverage – and related spending – also varies between European countries.

So, how does your country compare with others in Europe when we look at total healthcare expenditure? France and Germany have the highest spending on healthcare relative to GDP in the EU, according to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

The figure stood at 11.3 percent in both countries in 2017, with Sweden next (11 percent). However, if we also include European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, Switzerland (12.4 percent) ranks as the undisputed leader.

Major countries that spend below the 9.9 percent EU average on healthcare in relation to GDP include the UK (9.6 percent), Spain (8.9 percent) and Italy (8.8 percent). Scroll over the map below to find out how much your country spends.

 
Independent country ratings

The Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI) has been providing international comparisons for the performance of national healthcare systems since 2005. It looks at 46 indicators, including access to care, treatment outcomes, and the range and reach of services.

So, which countries come out on top? Switzerland ranks first in the latest index, followed by the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark. Countries with small populations dominate the top ten, which also includes Sweden (eighth) and Austria (ninth).

While France and Germany may have topped the European spending list, here they come in 11th and 12th positions. That still puts them ahead of other major nations in Europe such as the UK (16th), Spain (19th) and Italy (20th).

Switzerland has an “excellent, although expensive” system and it was no surprise to see it knocking the previous leader the Netherlands into second position, according to EHCI. The experts who produce the index added that “many countries have inefficient ways to fund and deliver healthcare services” – but lots of Europe’s smaller countries are setting a good example. 

Understanding public provision

The benefits of good health are huge – for you as an individual, your family and your wider community. As a recent OECD report stated: “Healthy people create healthy communities and contribute towards a well-functioning, prosperous and more productive society.”

Living abroad or frequently crossing borders can sometimes place extra strain on you – as well as leading to difficulties in understanding a foreign healthcare system. 

Many European countries have universal public healthcare systems. But this doesn’t always mean every treatment is free at the point of care or accessible immediately, so it’s worth checking your local rules and waiting list times.


Photo: Getty Images

Switzerland’s highly-rated system is based on compulsory insurance and Germany has what is known as a ‘multi-payer’ healthcare system involving a combination of public and private insurance.

Confused yet? If you’re new to a country, you may not even be fully aware of how the relevant national system works.

This is one reason why some busy expats seek out a comprehensive solution such as international health insurance. Whether you live in another country, plan to relocate, or just want private coverage for peace of mind, ASN can offer options to fit your needs. You can get worldwide coverage, ensuring you always have the same level of cover even as you travel between countries.

The many benefits can also include 27-global service, an English-speaking personal advisor, routine or annual check-ups with your preferred doctor, quick access to a second opinion, and treatment with alternative medicine. You can upgrade or downgrade your policy and add or remove benefits – meaning you stay in control of what matters most to you. All of these services are free for ASN customers.

Here’s to a long life

Increasing life expectancy should be celebrated – and it’s risen fast in many European countries this century. Across the EU, life expectancy at birth reached 81 in 2018. Women can still expect to live longer than men (83.7 years versus 78.2) – but men have closed the gap a little in recent years.

Ageing populations are one of the big trends of the 21st century – and as Eurostat itself has pointed out this adds to the pressure on people in work to support services for the elderly through their taxes.

So, where can people expect the greatest longevity? The ten EU regions with the highest life expectancy for women at birth in 2018 were all in just two countries: Spain and France. For men, four of the top five regions were in Italy, with the only exception being Madrid (which also topped the women’s list).

Find out more about what ASN provides, from 24/7 English-speaking customer service to annual checkups with your preferred doctor

 
For members

HEALTH INSURANCE

What isn’t covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

Switzerland’s basic health insurance is among the most expensive in the world, but there are certain services it doesn’t pay for. Here are some of the benefits the scheme won’t cover in full.

What isn't covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

Basic insurance — KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian —  is compulsory in Switzerland. It doesn’t come cheap, but it is quite comprehensive and includes coverage for illness, medications, tests, maternity, physical therapy, preventive care, and many other treatments.

It also covers accidents for those who do not have accident insurance through their workplace.

Basically, whatever the doctor orders is covered by KVG / LaMal, at least partially.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

However, there are some treatments the basic insurance won’t pay for.

Experimental treatments

Any experimental treatments or drugs — that is, those not approved by the Swissmedic regulatory agency or the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) will not be covered.

This exclusion is not specifically Swiss; insurance schemes is most countries won’t cover unauthorised medical treatment either.

Dental care

In most cases, services such as teeth cleaning, dental fillings, root canals, tooth extractions, and orthodontic braces, are not included under basic insurance.

The only exceptions, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), are dental interventions “necessitated by a serious disorder of the masticatory system, or if such treatment is required to support and ensure the success of medical treatment for a severe general disorder (e.g. leukaemia, heart-valve replacement)”.

Most dental treatments are not covered. Photo by Pixabay

Eyeglasses and contact lenses

Compulsory health insurance will contribute up to 180 francs per year towards glasses and contact lenses prescribed by an ophthalmologist for children up to the age of 18.

No such benefit exist for adults. However, “in the case of serious visual impairment or certain illnesses (e.g. disease-related refraction abnormalities, postoperative alterations or corneal disease), compulsory health insurance will, regardless of age, make higher contributions towards medically prescribed spectacle and contact lenses”, FOPH says.

READ MORE: Reader question: Can Swiss health insurance exclude me if I have pre-existing conditions?

Ambulance

Emergency vehicles that transport you to a hospital can be quite expensive — depending on the canton, the costs can range from 900 to 2,000 francs per trip. 

Basic health insurance will contribute a certain amount  to the cost of emergency transportation, but only if it is a medical necessity — a serious accident, an illness, or a life-threatening situation. But if the patient could have travelled by private car or public transport, basic health insurance policies will pay nothing.

Insurance will cover some of the cost of ambulance transport only in emergency. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Private hospital room

While the cost of your hospitalisation will be fully covered, the basic insurance does not pay for a private room.

You will be accommodated in a room with other patients.

Depending on a medical facility — whether it’s a small hospital or a large, university medical centre, you could end up with just one other person or possibly four or five, the latter being common in teaching hospitals.

If you insist on a private accommodation, you will have to pay for it out of your own pocket.

Reader question: Can Swiss health insurance exclude me if I have pre-existing conditions?

Vaccines

Immunisations outlined by FOPH  will be paid for by insurance, as will the Covid vaccine.

Not covered, however, are travel-related vaccinations or preventive measures, such as against yellow fever or malaria.

Treatment abroad

Outside Switzerland, only emergency care is covered  — double the amount that the same treatment would cost in Switzerland.

Usually, basic health insurance will not cover transportation costs back to Switzerland, except in case of emergency, when it will cover 50 percent of the total cost of transportation to the nearest hospital abroad — but no more than 500 francs per year. 

If you only have a basic insurance policy and travel abroad often, especially to the United States, you should take out a travel insurance that will cover you for illness and accidents in foreign countries above and beyond what your Swiss carrier will pay.

And if you want to upgrade your treatment options, consider taking out a supplemental insurance or, if you can afford it, private one.

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

You can find out more about what KVG / LaMal will and will not cover here.

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