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Austrian Health Care

Susie Bondi, Vienna, Austria
September 2009

For us, health care was a big consideration when we were deciding where we would retire. Quality of health care was an issue of course, but so was coverage. We chose Vienna, Austria. Although Austria is listed only as 9th best by the World Health Organization, it was far above the U.S.A. listed only as 37th. Vienna, however, was listed as 1st in quality of living by Mercer Consultants, so we thought we would give it a try. We were not disappointed!

In Austria you can be either 100% covered by the public program or 100% private pay, however you can also get supplementary private insurance for “comfort class” hospitalization which includes flexible visiting hours, private room and your private doctor. Everyone who pays taxes in Austria is financially supporting the public system, whether they participate in the public system or pay for private insurance.

Doctors have choices – they can be private, public or both. Doctors want to be part of the public system. There is currently a waiting list for doctors who wish to become part of the public system.

We are covered 100% by the public program. Outside of an occasional 4.50 € we pay for a prescription, we have very few out of pocket expenses.

When you’re 86 years young, experience with the health care system is not unusual, and we are experienced. Last winter Fred fell and broke his nose. The services we received were as follows: the ambulance to the emergency room, the emergency room doctor, the MRI, the CAT scan, the night in the hospital (to make sure there was no internal bleeding) and 2 square meals in the cleanest hospital I have ever seen with the most pleasant, helpful nurses I have ever experienced. The total amount that was not covered by our public health insurance. . . 36 €, which was then covered by our AARO insurance! I was impressed. Fred’s cataract surgery when about the same way – I’m still impressed.

Here is how it works. Each covered individual has a plastic card with a computer chip. The chip has all necessary health care information. You choose your general doctor, then he or she co-ordinates your general care. This includes visits to specialists when needed through the use of an “überweisung” – or transfer form. When you arrive at your doctor’s office, the receptionist will swipe your card, and then you see your doctor.

The down side to the public program is waiting. Private patients make appointments, and they are respected. Public patients make appointments too (or not), but there can be a wait. When you have a little experience you learn certain tricks, like coming early or making appointments on Wednesdays!

Theoretically one should be able to move from one EU country to another while maintaining health insurance. In practice, there are glitches. Misdirection, ignorance and misinformation on the part of our “home” country, France, were very frustrating for us. We finally gave up. Since Fred was a “victim of Nazism”, he was quickly and easily granted admittance into the “Wiener Gebietskrankenkasse”, the Austrian public health insurance system. As his wife, I too was accepted.

The feeling we get from our Austrian medical care is that despite the program being designed for the general public, we are important. Our health and well-being is a concern to our care givers. We are not ignored; we are not made to wait for important, expensive tests. We are treated with kindness and respect. I only wish that the same standards of care and caring were available elsewhere.

 

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