Can a Swiss hospital refuse urgent medical care to a foreigner?
What medical treatment are foreigners entitled to if they fall ill in Switzerland?
The answer to this question depends on whether you are a resident of Switzerland, or someone just passing through the country.
In the first case, you are required to have Swiss health insurance, regardless of whether you are a Swiss or foreign national. This means you will be provided with emergency as well as any non-urgent care you may need.
Even the most basic insurance policy — KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian — is quite comprehensive and includes coverage for illness, medications, tests, maternity, physical therapy, preventive care, and many other treatments.
A notable exception is the ambulance.
Health insurance will contribute a certain amount to the cost of emergency transportation, but only if it really is a medical necessity — a serious accident or a life-threatening situation. If, however, the patient could have travelled to the hospital by private car or public transport, basic health insurance will pay nothing (though supplementary policies might).
What if you are not a resident but a visitor?
"Nationals of other countries must have sufficient insurance to cover the costs of treatment in Switzerland", according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).
If you are from an EU / EFTA state and have the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), "you are entitled to receive medical care that is considered essential, given the type of treatment and the expected length of stay in Switzerland", FOPH said
“Essential care” means emergencies as described above, rather than non-urgent treatments that can be safely postponed until you return home.
That determination will be made by a medical professional.
Tourists from third nations, on the other hand, must have an adequate health insurance policy covering the costs of essential medical treatment.
However, if you are from a country subject to a Schengen visa, “you must take out private medical insurance providing minimum coverage of EUR 30,000”. FOPH said.
What happens if you don’t have any health insurance at all?
In case of a true medical emergency, you will not be denied care; you will be stabilised, but will have to return to your country for follow-up treatment. Also, you will be presented with a bill when you leave the hospital.
Now, if you come to Switzerland specifically with the intention of getting medical treatment, you can of course make an appointment with a doctor of your choice, but you will have to settle you bill immediately after the consultation.
Whether your own insurance policy from your country will refund charges incurred in Switzerland depends on what kind of arrangement you have with your carrier — but this is not the Swiss hospitals’ problem.