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HEALTH

Top-up health fee dodgers face hefty fines

People who refuse to pay additional top-up money to their statutory health insurer face fines of up to €225 under reforms being considered by the federal government, media reported Wednesday.

Top-up health fee dodgers face hefty fines
Photo: DPA

Daily Rheinische Post reported that a government advisory panel is discussing the hefty fines as a way of enforcing the Zusatzbeiträge or extra fees, which statutory health insurers are allowed to charge customers when they can’t make do with the money doled out for each customer by the government’s central statutory health fund.

In early 2010, more than a dozen health insurers began charging their members such fees, which top out at €37.50 per month.

A spokesman for the Health Ministry confirmed that a regulation was being discussed “which ensures that additional payments will be paid,” Rheinische Post reported.

The statutory health insurance industry would thereby be protected against people disinclined to pay the additional payments.

“This will therefore insure that the honest are not the suckers,” said the spokesman.

While the regular health insurance contributions are taken directly from a worker’s salary by their employer, this cannot be done in the case of extra fees for data privacy reasons. Instead, an employee must make their own extra payments.

A plan to have employers deduct the extra payments directly from people’s salaries if they default had been abandoned, a participant in the discussions told the paper.

“That’s not possible for data protection reasons. The employers are allowed to find out who isn’t paying,” the source said.

The debate follows a report this week in daily Bild that about 1 million people have refused to pay additional fees levied by statutory health insurers this year to fill budgetary shortfalls.

At one insurer, BKK, some 30 percent of members had ignored demands to pay the additional charge.

Andrea Nahles, secretary general of the centre-left Social Democrats, said it was deeply unfair if rising health care costs in the future were borne solely by people insured by statutory insurers, while employers and the privately insured escaped extra burdens.

At the same time, she described as “ludicrous” the notion of making employers and pension schemes the collectors of the additional payments.

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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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