SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

HEALTH INSURANCE

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
Rega on a rescue mission in the Swiss Alps. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

HEALTH INSURANCE

EXPLAINED: How the Swiss health insurance system is based on solidarity

Much has been said about Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance, most of it pertaining to its high — and continually growing — costs. But there is also another aspect of the scheme many people may not know about.

EXPLAINED: How the Swiss health insurance system is based on solidarity

For many people in Switzerland, the obligatory medical insurance is a sore point.

Premiums will likely rise by an average of 5 percent in the fall, and many people could even see their rates soar by more than 10 percent in 2023 — the sharpest hike in premiums in 20 years.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How Switzerland wants to cut soaring healthcare costs

While there are some ways to save money on a health plan, overall these policies are expensive, and you will hear many people grumble about this cost — even though Swiss healthcare system is known for its excellent level of care.

What you may have not known is that the whole scheme is based on the principle of solidarity, the extent of which is rare in other nations’ health insurance systems.

What exactly does this mean?

Rather than applying an individual approach to healthcare insurance, Switzerland’s system is based on the idea that all insured people form a group.

You can think of this system in terms of a huge pot to which each resident of Switzerland makes a contribution (that is, premium payments), so that in an emergency there are enough resources available to give someone the help they need when they need it.

This kind of ‘one for all’ approach takes precedence over the ‘to each his own’ attitude prevalent in many other countries.

“This means that even those who are in perfect health and never need to see a doctor pay their monthly premiums and thus indirectly provide for those who are ill and need more medical support”, according to a report by the WIRE research think tank.

In other words, all the people of the same age group living in the same canton pay the same premium, rather than different rates based on their income or other personal circumstances.

This applies only to the obligatory basic insurance (KVG / LaMal); supplemental insurances have a different rate base.

Under this system, “it is the task of the federal government, cantons, municipalities and health insurance companies to keep this group balanced<2, the report says. “That’s why decisions in the Swiss healthcare system are always taken in the interest of the group as a whole».

How did this system originate?

This principle of solidarity between the healthy and the sick has a long tradition in Switzerland and is even enshrined in the health insurance law.

“In practice, this also results in solidarity between young and old, because young people on average have little need of medical care, but the risk of illness increases with age”, the WIRE report points out.

“Uniform premiums also mean that there is solidarity between men and women, as the latter generally claim more medical benefits due to pregnancies and births and longer life expectancy,” it added.

How does this system compare with health policies in other countries?

According to the report, in an international comparison, the Swiss health system “displays greater solidarity than the US health system”, where anyone who is not insured has to pay for medical treatment out of their own pocket, “which is why many people get into debt”.

Switzerland’s approach is “also more liberal than Germany’s where health insurance premiums depend on a person’s income”.

Likewise, it is also more liberal than the health systems in France and the UK, “which rely more on fiscal contributions from the state”.

As for the question whether those countries’ health system are superior to Switzerland’s, the report notes that “this is doubtful because state healthcare systems financed by taxes are also forced to compensate for dwindling tax revenues, for example by increasing deductibles, which reduced the solidarity between the insured in different income bracket”.

READ MORE: How is Swiss healthcare system different from the rest of Europe?

SHOW COMMENTS