Swiss Health System
The Swiss health system is world-class. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) and other worldwide policy and performance surveys consistently rank Switzerland among the top three in the world for its healthcare system. The WHO (World Health Organisation) lists the life expectancy of the population as a whole at around 83 years; women can expect to live to age 87. Another feature of the Swiss health system is the equity of access to care regardless of income. Health insurance is compulsory, with state subsidies for low income families to make this possible, resulting in significantly lesser degrees of health inequalities than those found in other countries. The major downside of the Swiss healthcare system is the cost: Switzerland’s the second-most expensive after that of the USA.
Now that you know you have arrived in a country where you can rely on good quality care, the next step is knowing how to access it and how to make sure you are appropriately insured. Everyone must have basic compulsory health insurance (Basisversicherung) within three months settling in Switzerland. The cost of basic health insurance is regulated by the Federal Office of Public Health. The price you pay will depend on factors such as which canton you live in, as well as what you want to pay yourself (deductable) before your insurance kicks in, as well as any additional insurance (Zusatzversicherung). Basic insurance covers all illness, pregnancy and accidents (if the latter is not covered by a specific accident insurance policy). If you have a job, you will have accident insurance via your employer. All Swiss insurance companies must offer basic coverage regardless of any pre-condition, although they can exclude those pre-conditions from the extra coverage options. The premiums for children under 18 are reduced. For full details and additional useful information in English, see the Federal Office of Public Health website at https://www.bag.admin.ch/bag/en/home/themen/versicherungen.html
There are about 80 insurance companies to choose from, so choosing one can be quite a challenge. Many insurance companies provide information in English; you will find a full list at www.praemien.admin.ch (in German only). You may also find this comparison website useful: www.comparis.ch. It can help you to decide whether or not to take out additional insurance (Zusatzversicherung). This is offered at different levels to suit your needs and your budget. Extra coverage will give you access to a broader choice of specialist doctors, private or semi-private in/out-patient treatments, rehabilitation therapies, etc. Your health insurance won’t cover dental care and if you want to buy dental insurance you will need to arrange that separately, although many residents don’t have dental insurance – in the long run, the premiums are often more expensive than regular dental care.
When you have arranged your insurance, the company will send you a proof-of-insurance card that you will need to take with you when you visit doctors or pharmacies. Once you get the bill from the doctor, you can pay it yourself and then send the information to your insurance for reimbursement. The insurance company will transfer this directly to your bank account once they have deducted your portion, if any. You may also send the bills directly to the insurance company for payment and processing.
Once you have health insurance, the next step is to choose a family doctor/GP (Hausarzt). Even if your insurance policy includes the option of self-referral to a specialist, your family doctor is usually the first point of contact. They will refer you on to specialists as necessary and are useful in finding the right paediatrician, gynaecologist, physiotherapist, etc. You can register with any family doctor taking on new patients. You’ll find a list of doctors by region at www.doktor.ch, which includes information in English and should help you to find an English-speaking doctor, if that is important.
Good to know: If you need to see a doctor before you have registered with a family doctor or you need to see a doctor outside working hours for a non-emergency, there are several walk-in clinics at major train stations and the airport: at Zürich’s main train station (Hauptbahnhof), Permanence is open from 7:00 to 22:00, 365 days a year; and at Zürich Airport the Airport Medical Center is also open 365 days a year from 7:30 to 20:30. In addition to offering a wide range of diagnostic tests, the doctors at the walk-in clinics prescribe medication and both locations have nearby pharmacies. You will need to show your insurance card to access these services, or you can pay directly by credit card. Pharmacists also offer basic health advice and sometimes make a very good first port of call for minor illnesses on short notice.
Renewing or changing your health insurance policy. If you are happy with your insurance, you won’t need to do anything more: the policy will automatically be renewed each year and you will be sent details of any price or policy changes from your insurer by mail. However, if you feel that your current health policy doesn’t meet your needs or costs too much, you may want to look for an alternative provider. To cancel you current policy, please note that the notice must be sent in writing and that most policies may only be cancelled effective the end of the year.
Emergencies. Finally, make sure you know the emergency numbers or store them in your mobile phone. Switzerland does not have one emergency number like 999 or 911, it has different ones for each kind of emergency:
Poisoning emergencies 145
It is also good to note where your nearest emergency service is and how to get there.
We hope you and your family enjoy the benefits of living in a country where good health for everyone is a goal, and the health service available to all of us who live here is among the best in the world.