The German healthcare system: Your questions answered

The German healthcare system: Your questions answered

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If you’ve just arrived in Germany or are accessing the healthcare system for the first time, you probably have a lot of questions about how it all works. To get you started, company health insurance fund Siemens-Betriebskrankenkasse have assembled a list of some of the most important questions and answers relating to healthcare in Germany.

The German healthcare system is extensive and comprehensive – with lots of choices as to health insurance, treatments, hospitals and doctors. Here’s an overview of what you need to know.

Is medical treatment the same everywhere in Germany?

If you have health insurance in Germany, you are entitled to receive all medically-necessary services. Access to medical care is the same all over the country, no matter which region you are in. However, some health insurance providers offer additional benefits for their clients which are not part of the statutory medical services – usually for an additional cost.

What do I need to know about visiting a doctor in Germany?

Unlike in some countries, insured people in Germany can freely choose their doctor, provided they are authorised by statutory health insurances and the hospital. For outpatient treatments, you will find a variety of GPs and specialists, working either independently or as part of a group in a practice.

Once you have chosen your preferred GP and registered with them, don’t forget to take your electronic health insurance card with you when attending appointments.

Why is it so important to take your electronic health insurance card along when I see my doctor or go to hospital?

Your electronic health insurance card identifies you as an insured person, making you eligible to receive healthcare services from doctors and hospitals. Each card contains a chip which stores your insurance data, including your date of birth, gender and address, as well as a passport photo to prevent misuse. It also includes data about your health insurance coverage.

When you sign up for a health insurance plan, you and every co-insured family member will automatically receive their electronic health insurance card at the beginning of their membership. You only need to sign it to make it valid. Then, simply present your card at the doctor’s surgery or in the hospital. The healthcare provider can then settle your bill directly with your insurer.  

Do I have to pay for medication in Germany?

Regardless of which health insurance fund you are a member of, you are required to pay 10 percent of the cost of prescribed medication – although some health insurance funds will reimburse the cost of prescriptions. The co-payment is a minimum of five euros and a maximum of 10 euros. Children and teenagers up to the age of 18, however, are exempt from any payment. As a matter of principle, health insurance funds do not pay for over-the-counter medications.

You are exempt from paying the deductible if you are a regular user of a certain medication. As an insurant, your deductibles are limited to two percent of your gross annual earnings. If you are suffering from a serious chronic condition, this deductible limit is reduced to one percent. If you exceed this limit within a calendar year, you can make a request to be exempted from paying deductibles.

How do I obtain medication in Germany?

Any medication necessary for your course of treatment will be prescribed by your doctor. You can then visit the pharmacy of your choice to fill your prescription. In contrast to other countries, medication cannot be bought in supermarkets or drugstores in Germany.

Do I have to pay for my glasses myself?

When it comes to visual aids such as glasses or contact lenses, health insurers in Germany only take over a part of the costs for specific groups of people: children and teenagers up to the age of 18 and people with marked visual impairments. Everyone else has to cover their own costs.

Am I still insured in Germany if I become unemployed?

In Germany, most employees and trainees are insured under statutory health insurance, which is part of the compulsory insurance system (a far-reaching welfare system made up of health insurance, unemployment insurance, pension insurance and long-term care insurance). Contributing to this statutory scheme means that, if you lose your job in Germany or decide to pursue a professional reorientation, you can start claiming unemployment benefit.

As long as you continue to receive unemployment benefits, your contributions to health insurance, long-term care insurance and pension insurance will continue to be covered – ensuring that you still have access to healthcare.

What is long-term care insurance?

Long-term care insurance is a part of the social security system that supports and helps care-dependent people and their relatives, in the case of accident, illness or old age. Long-term care contributions are regulated by law, and are split equally between you and your employer, based on your gross income. Your contribution will be higher if you are over 23 years of age and have no children.

Does the insurance also cover treatment outside of Germany?

Should you, for example, fall ill while travelling, your health insurance fund will normally pay for your outpatient or inpatient treatment within the EU as well as in Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Conditions vary for trips outside of the EU – so you should check with your health insurance provider before travelling to be sure.  

What should I do in the case of a medical emergency?

Dial 112 to call the emergency services in Germany. Response times are typically very quick, and the cost is borne by your health insurance provider. You may have to provide a co-payment of somewhere between five and 10 euros.

In the case of acute conditions that are not life-threatening, you can call 116 117 to contact the non-emergency medical on-call service (Ärztlicher Bereitschaftsdienst).

Do you have more questions about healthcare in Germany? Siemens-Betriebskrankenkasse is one of the largest statutory health insurance funds in Germany and provides expert advice, award-winning customer service and excellent coverage to more than one million insurants across the country. Contact them for more information.

Lisa Schreiner


Lisa Schreiner

Personal SBK Consultant in English

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Datgirltrouble 12:19 | 22 October 2020

I tried to sign up with SBK, twice. I was impressed with their customer service. The first time I applied too soon. 2nd time, I was eligible to switch, because my previous employer categorized me incorrectly. I am free willing and my current company categorized me as such. This made me eligible to leave AOK. I wrote SBK, several times and they sent me an email telling me I am not eligible to switch. Didn't even ask me for my cancellation letter or anything. So, terribly disappointing. I have been accepted to another company and they don't even advertise 'Award-Winning customer service'. Lol.

LisaSchreiner2 09:38 | 13 November 2020

Hello Datgirltrouble, we are sorry there has been some miscommunication. Please be assured that we always try to give our best for clients and interested clients. We would like to hear from you again so that we can talk it through. Therefore we kindly ask you to send us a message: Best regards - SBK