Expat Jessica recounts her experiences of healthcare in Switzerland and concludes that the system is an impressive one, though paying upfront and compulsory health insurance fees can hurt.
After hearing about what a terrible healthcare system we have in the States from movies like Sicko I thought it was about time to blog about my experiences with the Swiss healthcare system. I have had a bit of experience with Swiss healthcare because I seem to get sick regularly – nothing serious, thank heavens – but nevertheless I have been to a few doctors in Switzerland so far and have had to use ‘the system’.
Here is a list of some of the observations I have made.
1. Like everything in Switzerland, healthcare is not cheap.
This is the number one thing that surprised me the most about the Swiss healthcare system. You hear all about how the Swiss have access to some of the best healthcare in the world and it makes them happier. But unlike socialised systems in Sweden and Australia, and even in comparison to tax-based plans in Germany, Swiss healthcare is paid out-of-pocket and starts at about CHF 220 per person per month with a very high deductible. So while Swiss taxes are low, healthcare is pretty expensive because taxes and employers do not take any of the weight off. In comparison, I paid about USD 225 per month for family insurance in the US and that was employer supported.
With or without a high deductible, you always pay the medical expenses out of pocket first, then get reimbursed. I find this tough as well because if it is a big bill, you have to find the dough to pay for it first. Tough system.
One point though: the one major benefit of the plan we chose is that we pay the same monthly fee for life, no matter how old and crippled we get, which is great. So we basically lock in the young, healthy rate. That is a benefit later in life, for sure.
2. Health insurance is mandatory and basic coverage is universal.
I am not sure how they enforce this but everyone has to have health insurance and unlike campaigns in Massachusetts where they tried this and failed because people couldn’t afford healthcare – they’d rather pay the penalties, they’re cheaper than the healthcare costs – somehow, Switzerland succeeds (I think).
We had a grace period of three months when we arrived to get Swiss health insurance. All health insurance companies must provide basic health insurance and this is what the prices on services like Comparis show, based on your age and such. We were told to go with the cheapest because hey, basic health insurance is basic health insurance and we don’t need anything fancy (like special maternity plans or alternative medicine plans or private super coverage). So we went with the cheapest.
3. Medical quality is good. Very good.
I have been super impressed by the conditions of the doctors, dentists hospitals in Switzerland. Super impressed. For example, I had my annual women’s check up – you know the one – and the chair they put me in for the checkup was fully automated. I mean, this thing could have rocketed me to the moon and back. No ‘please move down, a bit more, a bit more’ etc. because all the doctor had to do was tilt the chair this way and that, up and down and it was done. It was almost heaven.
The dentist I have took digital photos of my teeth mid-exam to show me where he wanted to work. (It is scary to see 9×11 of your teeth on a TV monitor but very cool.)
And every doctor I have been to has a computer with internet access to check prescription names and compare overseas medications to ones that can be prescribed in Switzerland.
Now if only they could spell my last name correctly!
4. The doctors are on time and available at short notice.
I have barely had to wait more than 10 minutes for an appointment. Seriously. Enough said. Impressive.
I think that they either allow more time with patients or are just, like everything Swiss, overly efficient. Nevertheless, I have not felt rushed and have not had to really wait. Love it.
I also have always been able to get a general doctor’s appointment at short notice. Specialists I have had to wait longer for and book in advance, but urgent appointments have always been available which is great.
5. Some doctor’s bill by the hour and then in 15 minute increments.
This was one bill that I got – just putting it out there. It surprised me. I felt like they were charging for doing my taxes, not a medical examination. Different… but I understand it.
6. I can go to any doctor in Switzerland.
Unlike plans in the States where you have to sometimes go to doctors on your plan, I can go to whomever I want.
I asked one doctor if he was on my insurance once and he just stared at me like I was from another planet. That is how it should be. I should be able to see whatever doctor or specialist I want because when it comes down to your health you deserve the best – and no doubt, you get it here.
7. Some Swiss doctors bill quarterly.
This is one I am still trying to get used to because I know I am going to get hit with some huge bill around Christmas for all the doctor’s appointments in the last three months. Not great. I think you can ask to be billed immediately, and I will be doing that from now on to space out the costs. Because again, the higher the deductible, the higher the threshold to full reimbursement for medical, and therefore more out of pocket.
Then again if I don’t get sick, the less I have to pay – so, it’s a two way street.
8. Doctors outside of Zurich can also hand out prescriptions.
I am not sure where the boundaries of this stop and start, but one doctor told me that doctors outside of Zurich can also fill prescriptions. This is great, because once I needed something immediately, and I loved that I did not need to factor in an extra trip to the pharmacy. This definitely influenced my choice in terms of a long-term general practitioner, because I think there are definite benefits to one stop shopping.
Those are my experiences. Please let me know if I missed something or misworded something as I am definitely not an insurance or healthcare expert. But all in all, I am impressed with the healthcare system in Switzerland and find that I am getting quality care. I hope that in the next few years I can say the same for the state of healthcare in the US!