Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Life in Austria. Part 2. Healthcare

With healthcare being such a hot topic in America, I thought I'd fill you in on how the Austrian system works. Note: not like the U.S. Note 2: better! Note 3: much smaller country (we're talkin 8 vs. 308 million) with a totally different government, so not really fair to compare (I'm giving America a little break here.)

This is Michelle Obama giving a talk on healthcare back in September. Glad she's wearing her seatbelt to emphasize safety. She loves her some big thick belts. I do like a lot of her clothes though...as if that's what we're discussing here.
I mostly have to go from my own experience with doctors and insurance here and fill in some gaps with information and facts I've gathered online. {So, please, any healthcare gurus out there...go easy on me..I'm a novice serious issue reporter...meaning I'm usually discussing coffee froth or how to put tomatoes and mozzarella between two slices of bread.}

Austria is well known for it's top-notch healthcare system. It's an affluent country with some serious organization and efficiency skills, so it's not surprising they got it going on in this department. It is ranked 9th in the world by the World Health Organization and #1 in Europe in a 2007 study by Health Consumer Powerhouse, a renowned Swedish organization.

Everyone living and working in Austria has to make health insurance contributions, and everyone is covered under this socialized system. There are, of course, different payment scales depending on salary and type of employment. I think ours is fairly reasonable. Probably more than what we'd pay for insurance out of our paycheck in America, but all basic services and most specialist services (including dental and hospital stays) are free. Meaning I NEVER fork over any money when I go to the "Arzt" (doctor). Oh, once I paid 4 euros for blood being drawn. 4 Euros! I am automatically covered under Art's insurance being his dependent. I'm totally an independent woman though, k? Throw your hands up at me.

There is private insurance as well, but since we don't do that, I don't know too much about it. Everyone in the public system carries an e-card that they swipe through a credit card like machine at the check-in desk and it has all your info. Genius...why don't we have this? Oh, I forgot...we make it as complicated as possy. No filling out paperwork everytime you go to a new doctor. This little card is wondey:

Doctors here must work solo. There are no group practices. I don't know why, it's just not allowed. And they don't seem to work too much as their general hours are M - F from 8 - 12 or 1 and T & Th from 3 - 5:30 or something. This is usually how it works. Someone told me they go on house calls in the other hours? Do they bring a black doctor bag with them like in Pollyanna? This concept is foreign to me and seems so old school, but probably nice and convenient for those that need it.

There are no "office" buildings here in Austria (or at least in Graz), so doctors' practices are located in a regular old building among the apartments. There are little arrows around town pointing you to doctors' offices. You usually must go see your general practitioner first for everything. He/She will then refer you to the appropriate specialist if need be. I have found waiting times vary...sometimes 10 minutes and some offices I wait at least an hour every dang time. And when you walk into a waiting room, everyone greets you (usually "morgen" because it's morning) and when you leave, everyone tells you goodbye. It is quite humorous. There is no talking in between...heaven forbid...you don't know these people and that would be just downright obscene you crazy American, you!

Sometimes it does take too long to get an appointment. For instance, I called in November for a thyroid check-up and was told I could come March 13. Um, nein danke. Is there a thyroid shortage out there or what? When I call my other doctor, they usually tell me to come the next day.

Are you wondering how I speak to these doctors? Luckily, most doctors here speak pretty good English. I usually ask when I make the appointment. I've at least gotten that part down...speaking with the receptionist. Oh, and Elsie's vet is great. Her shots have been the most expensive health cost we've had (besides our monthly payments). Unfortunately, Elsie doesn't have an e-card, but she does have a micro-chip in her neck that when scanned tells you her address and shot history. She was actually an illegal immigrant from Slovakia that was luckily granted citizenship by our kind vet with the insertion of this chip.

Prescriptions are always 4.80 € with the e-card, unless you are getting over the counter meds, which are only in the Apothekes (pharmacies), as nothing druggish is sold in a regular store. We ain't got no CVS or Walgreens. You literally must ask for them from the pharmacist and receive them 'over the counter'. They are pretty expensive here too. I do like that you can buy contacts without a prescription because in the U.S. you had to go see the dumb eye doctor every year just to get more contacts. I hate that eye puff.

So, that's my fairly basic rundown of the healthcare system here. I'm sure there's much more to it, but for now, this suffices for me. Oh, and my general doctor is next door...how's that for too convenient? Hey, I haven't gone to see her once during this whole nasty cold/cough/misery-at-night debacle. Ich bin kein Hypochonder.


MyLittleHappyPlace said...

The e-card does sound rather brilliant, and waaaay too efficient for The States. My experience with the Brazilian socialized medicine has been far less pleasant, thus, the decision to head back to Texas for baby #2's birth!

1richtungsblog said...

I love love love your new series! A lot of research you do and your writing cracks me up!
xo Anita

Kimberly said...

You such a smarty! :)
We have had the on call doctor make three house calls. It is great when I am too lazy or paranoid to take Chloe to the doctor when she is really sick! You should try it! :)

Anonymous said...

Also loving this series! Was v impresed w socialized healthcare when I lived in Paris.


Erin said...

your seat belt joke made me laugh OUT LOUD at work. although i do like a lot of michelle's clothes too! and yes, that's an important issue. was it super expensive to have the microchip put in your illegal? franklin's vet wanted to charge me a million $$ for it.

Erin said...

Seatbelt > LOL

Rachel in Heidelberg said...

I am privately insured in Germany (have been told my insurance will work in Austria, we'll see . . .) and I'm guessing it's pretty much the same in Austria which in my experience is rubbish! What's the point in being INSURED if you still have to pay? I pay upfront for prescriptions then can claim some money back so end up paying about 4 Euros per prescription but the dr can charge what he or she likes for seeing me & the insurance company can decide to pay however much they like, so it seems although I didn't know this of course so when the insurance co. sent me this complicated letter with lots of figures in it I thought it was all settled then I got FINED by the dr for not paying my share of the bill! Was still only about 10 euros but I don't understand if I have to pay that everytime I go to the dr or not?

VictoriaArt said...

Wow, so cool how you write about all that....
Don't get me started on health care, I have so many issues with the system here....

Anyway, good to see your lovely blog, hope the start into the new decade went smoothly!

PS: Checked out all your post's since New Year and love that you got an response from the famous home owner from Jill Brinson's design hit!
This is classy!
And your post on coffee made me a bit homesick....in a nice way!

Bis bald, meine Liebe!


Anonymous said...

There is no reason why social health care system would not work in the US. Especially not the amount of people that live in a country. It`s social and will work in most countries where most people do work.
In Germany and Austria everybody pays a ceratin amount depending on the salery - if you are a wife and don`t work you don`t have to pay and will be automatically covered with your husbands insurance. Your kids will be coverd under their dads insuarnce this way,too.
I always felt it was very strange living in the US. My host family used to brush their teeth about 10 times a day...because the were afrait to go to the doc because of the expenses.

In Germany you have to go to see the dentist twice a year in order to get "artifical" teeth payed by the insurance when they are needed. (when you get old or have an accident). It`s more of a pre-care system.
But gets more expensive every year. But when you are used to pay it every month without noticing - it`s normal and something you never have to think or worry about.

I wish the states will have this in the future. So everybody can go see a doctor withouth great expenses. Even people who are homeless or don`t have a job.

To us it seem rediculous to see how some americans are "fighting" agains a new and better system that works well in lots of other countries.

Wish you all the best - and sorry for my bad english...I could have looked up some vocabularies and spelling - but am too lazy ;) Hope you still understand.

Sunhee Kim said...

Carolyn, thank you so much for putting up this blog. I'm moving to Austria as well .My fiance works under the same professor as Art did. Greetings from New York City!
I'm trying to figure out all the expenses we will incur once I move in with him i.e. healthcare cost, should we move to a new place, etc.) My fiance lives in the same apartment that you guys were first at (the one with the small bed) LOL!
I'm so jealous that you were able to have Elsie cuz the apartment I will be staying at doesn't allow pets. I would love nothing more than to have a dog while my fiance's at work. I will try to find a job as well but not sure about the chances I'll get one in Graz. O_o
So glad I met you here...

Post a Comment

Thanks for leaving me a comment! You know I love it so.
- Carolyn