Swarms switch health insurers to avoid fees

Swarms switch health insurers to avoid fees
PhotoL DPA
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.

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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