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HEALTH INSURANCE

Patients in Germany to be given speedier doctor’s appointments

Public health insurance patients will be able to get medical appointments more quickly in future thanks to a new law slated to pass Friday.

Patients in Germany to be given speedier doctor's appointments
A man at a doctor's appointment in Hartha, Saxony in January. Photo: DPA

On Friday morning, the Bundesrat (upper house of parliament) will be putting a law into place which stipulates that medical practitioners must in future offer at least 25 instead of 20 hours of appointments a week dedicated to patients with statutory health insurance (gesetzliche Krankenversicherung).

The law comes amid complaints from many public health insurance patients that they are forced to wait weeks for an appointment, or don't receive appointments at “patient friendly” hours, such as at the weekend. 

SEE ALSO: Doctors practices should be open later, on weekend: German health insurance

Ophthalmologists, gynaecologists and ear, nose and throat doctors must furthermore offer five hours a week for drop-in open consulting hours.

As an incentive, doctors will receive additional money to arrange urgent appointments with specialists. They’ll also be paid bonuses for welcoming new patients into the practice, and for offering drop-in consultation hours.

If they work in the countryside, doctors will be guaranteed additional payments.

The law will also develop the telephone appointment service, which operates differently around Germany, so that it is easier and faster for patients to book an appointment.

SEE ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor's appointment in Germany

The plans are slated to cost the statutory health insurance funds billions worth of additional expenditures.

Waiting times: A hot topic

Weeks of waiting time for publicly insured people in Germany remain a hot topic in Germany, also because private patients (private Krankenversicherung) often get appointments faster.

Health insurance is mandatory in Germany, with 85 percent of people on public health insurance.

Germany’s association of statutory health insurance (GKV) has previously urged doctors to offer more appointment hours at “patient friendly” times.

Currently the majority of practices are closed in the afternoon and in the evening on Wednesday and Friday, as well as at the weekends.

“Sicknesses do not depend on the favoured opening times of the established physicians,” Johann Magnus von Stackelberg, vice president of the GKV board, told DPA in December.

He added that “more and more people” are going to the emergency rooms of hospitals because they are unable to secure a doctor’s appointment.

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HEALTH INSURANCE

Why more than 20 million people in Germany face higher health insurance costs

Several German health insurance companies have raised their rates this year, pushing up the costs for customers.

Many people are facing higher health insurance contributions this year.
Many people are facing higher health insurance contributions this year. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jan Woitas

According to a study by the comparison portal Check24, around 21 million people with statutory health insurance (gesetzliche Krankenversicherung or GKV) have had to pay higher contributions since the beginning of the year after several organisations raised their additional contributions. 

A total of 19 of the 97 statutory health insurance providers in Germany have increased their additional contributions, the comparison portal found.

It means more than a quarter of the 73 million people with statutory health insurance in Germany have to pay higher additional contributions. 

According to Check24, the higher additional contributions can cost an insured person in the most expensive case an extra €261 per year.

Among those to have raised their additional contributions include AOK Baden-Württemberg and AOK Bayern, which have both increased the additional contributions from 1.10 percent to 1.30 percent. Check24 has published the full list of additional contributions here.

Customers affected receive a letter in the post letting them know when their contributions are increasing. Health insurance providers justify raising their rates by pointing out rising costs in the health and care system. The pandemic has also put significant strain on providers. 

READ ALSO: How to make the most of reward schemes on your German health insurance

A total of 67 health insurance providers are keeping their individual additional contribution the same. And as many as 11 health insurance funds lowered their contributions – although most of these already had comparatively high rates.

In 2021, Techniker Krankenkasse (TK), the largest statutory health insurance fund in Germany with around 8.2 million members, raised its additional contribution significantly.

The contribution went up to 1.2 percent from 0.7 percent. Average earners saw additional monthly costs of about €10 extra, while self-employed people had to pay up to €288 more per year. 

TK has not raised its rates this year. 

Can you switch health insurance?

If your health insurance company increases the additional contribution, those insured have a special right of termination until January 31st, 2022.

They can apply for the change up until this date, and they will then become a member of the new health insurance provider from April 1st after the statutory two month change-over period has expired.

Insured people also have the right to change their statutory health insurance fund every 12 months.

The cost of public health insurance in Germany is a fixed salary percentage of 14.6 percent, while the reduced contribution rate for employees without entitlement to sick pay is 14.0 per cent.

Beyond that, however, health insurance providers set an additional contribution, which can currently be up to 2.5 percent.

The contribution assessment ceiling for statutory health insurance (GKV) – up to which contributions are levied – remains unchanged at €58,050 per year in 2022, as in the previous year.

Check24 said that switching providers can save employees up to €624 per year depending on their income.

Self-employed people pay both the employee and employer contribution and can therefore save up to €1,248 euros per year by switching, the analysis found. 

However in a representative YouGov survey only 11 percent of respondents in Germany said they had recently changed their insurance provider or would do so in the foreseeable future.

Most of the benefits provided by statutory health insurance organisations are identical.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The three new services covered by German health insurance

However, there are some differences in the voluntary benefits, including dental health (professional dental cleaning and discounted dentures), vaccinations (flu vaccinations for under 60s and travel vaccinations), various cancer screening examinations and osteopathic treatments.

“In addition to the financial relief, insured people can also secure higher subsidies for professional dental cleaning or other additional benefits by switching,” said Dr Daniel Güssow, Managing Director of statutory health insurers at Check24.

Vocabulary 

Additional contributions (die) Zusatzbeiträge

Right of termination – (das) Kündigungsrecht 

Benefits (die) Leistungen

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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