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HEALTH

Swarms switch health insurers to avoid fees

Hundreds of thousands of Germans are switching statutory health insurers to avoid additional fees being used to plug budgetary gaps, a media report said on Monday.

Swarms switch health insurers to avoid fees
PhotoL DPA

According to a poll conducted by insurers and published by daily Der Tagesspiegel, more than 250,000 people have changed their health insurance providers since the New Year to one not yet charging an extra fee.

Leading the pack is the Techniker Krankenkasse, also known as the TK, which has garnered an additional 130,000 customers. Meanwhile the GEK insurer has seen its customer base rise by 100,000, the paper said.

German law allows health insurers to charge customers extra fees when they can’t make do with the money doled out for each customer by the government’s central statutory health care fund.

Germany’s public health care system instituted a new universal premium in January 2009. Set at 15.5 percent of an individual’s gross pay, it has turned out to be insufficient to maintain the budgets of the country’s statutory insurers. Many have begun slapping extra fees on their customers this year.

But health insurers also complained of deficits reaching €630 million by summer of 2009 because customers are not paying the fees they already owe, Der Tagesspiegel reported.

“Everyone should have health insurance, but when the members don’t pay, the insurers hardly have the opportunity to afford it,” GKV health insurer association head Ann Marini told the paper, adding that customers who default on their payments are not allowed to switch to other insurers.

Switching insurers may not help customers avoid extra fees for long, though.

Earlier this month Health Minister Philipp Rösler said he plans to tack a monthly per capita premium of €29 on health insurance beginning in 2011 to make up for chronic deficits.

The fee would be paid by every person who is publicly insured, meanwhile employers and employees would continue to pay equal parts of insurance fees.

To alleviate the burden on the insured, Rösler also said he plans to remove additional fees of 0.9 percent added to employees’ contributions in 2005.

According to Health Ministry estimations, public insurers face a deficit of around €11 billion for 2011 due to the flagging economy.

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HEALTH

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Two teenage boys between the ages of 15-17 have reportedly been infected by monkeypox, as the number of cases in Germany continues to grow.

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens 'among new infections'

German news site Spiegel Online first reported the new cases – which are an anomaly for a virus as it has mostly affected gay men – following an inquiry to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

They are among a total of 2,677 people who are confirmed to have contracted the virus in Germany to date. There have not been any fatalities.

Out of these, only five cases were women, according to the RKI. The public health institute said that it does not release information on individual cases.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox

The disease – which is not usually fatal – often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.

Many of the cases known so far concern homosexual and bisexual men. However, affected people and experts have repeatedly warned against stigmatising gay communities.

How fatal is the disease?

The first monkeypox cases were reported in Germany on May 20th, as the disease continued to spread in West Europe.

At the weekend, the first two deaths outside of West Africa were reported in Spain.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The RKI has urged people returning from West Africa and in particular gay men, to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.

According to the latest estimates, there are 23,000 monkeypox cases worldwide, and Europe is particularly affected with 14,000 cases.

There have been 2,677 monkeypox cases in Germany as of August 2, 2022. Photo: CDC handout

About eight percent of patients in Europe have been hospitalised so far, reported the World Health Association on Monday, mostly due to severe pain or additional infections.

In general, the mortality of the variant currently circulating in Europe is estimated to be low.

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany

Will a vaccine make a difference?

Since July, a vaccine has been authorised in 27 EU member states and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends vaccination against monkeypox in Germany for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected people.

So far, the German government has ordered 240,000 vaccine doses, of which 40,000 had been delivered by Friday. 

Around 200,000 doses are set to follow by the end of September. 

The German Aids Federation (DAH) on Friday called for one million vaccine doses, stressing that the current supplies will fall short of meeting need.

“The goal must be to reduce the number of infections as quickly as possible and to get the epidemic permanently under control,” explained Ulf Kristal of the DAH board in Berlin on Friday.

But this is only possible, he said, if as many people at risk of infection as possible are vaccinated.

“We don’t assume the epidemic will be over when the doses available so far have been vaccinated,” Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Epidemiologist and DAH Consultant for Medicine and Health Policy, wrote in a press release.

As long as there are monkeypox infections, he said, people who are at risk must be offered vaccination. 

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