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EXPLAINED: European healthcare spending and ratings by country

EXPLAINED: European healthcare spending and ratings by country
Photo: Getty Images
Most healthcare systems in Europe offer a good level of care. But which countries spend the most money on healthcare? Which do well in independent ratings? And which regions have the best life expectancy?

There are significant variations between countries in terms of these factors. If you’re an international resident, knowing a little about these differences could help you better understand the health system in your adopted homeland.

In partnership with international insurance broker ASN, The Local presents a guide to some of the key differences in European healthcare that every expat needs to know.

Hey big (healthcare) spender …

For you, healthcare is all about your well-being and that of your loved ones – something nobody can put a price on. But staying healthy is a priority for everybody. Looked at on a national basis, spending on healthcare is therefore a major topic of debate wherever you live.

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Some governments spend significantly more on healthcare than others. The level of private coverage – and related spending – also varies between European countries.

So, how does your country compare with others in Europe when we look at total healthcare expenditure? France and Germany have the highest spending on healthcare relative to GDP in the EU, according to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

The figure stood at 11.3 percent in both countries in 2017, with Sweden next (11 percent). However, if we also include European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, Switzerland (12.4 percent) ranks as the undisputed leader.

Major countries that spend below the 9.9 percent EU average on healthcare in relation to GDP include the UK (9.6 percent), Spain (8.9 percent) and Italy (8.8 percent). Scroll over the map below to find out how much your country spends.

 
 
Independent country ratings

The Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI) has been providing international comparisons for the performance of national healthcare systems since 2005. It looks at 46 indicators, including access to care, treatment outcomes, and the range and reach of services.

So, which countries come out on top? Switzerland ranks first in the latest index, followed by the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark. Countries with small populations dominate the top ten, which also includes Sweden (eighth) and Austria (ninth).

While France and Germany may have topped the European spending list, here they come in 11th and 12th positions. That still puts them ahead of other major nations in Europe such as the UK (16th), Spain (19th) and Italy (20th).

Switzerland has an “excellent, although expensive” system and it was no surprise to see it knocking the previous leader the Netherlands into second position, according to EHCI. The experts who produce the index added that “many countries have inefficient ways to fund and deliver healthcare services” – but lots of Europe's smaller countries are setting a good example. 

Understanding public provision

The benefits of good health are huge – for you as an individual, your family and your wider community. As a recent OECD report stated: “Healthy people create healthy communities and contribute towards a well-functioning, prosperous and more productive society.”

Living abroad or frequently crossing borders can sometimes place extra strain on you – as well as leading to difficulties in understanding a foreign healthcare system. 

Many European countries have universal public healthcare systems. But this doesn’t always mean every treatment is free at the point of care or accessible immediately, so it’s worth checking your local rules and waiting list times.

Photo: Getty Images

Switzerland’s highly-rated system is based on compulsory insurance and Germany has what is known as a ‘multi-payer’ healthcare system involving a combination of public and private insurance.

Confused yet? If you’re new to a country, you may not even be fully aware of how the relevant national system works.

This is one reason why some busy expats seek out a comprehensive solution such as international health insurance. Whether you live in another country, plan to relocate, or just want private coverage for peace of mind, ASN can offer options to fit your needs. You can get worldwide coverage, ensuring you always have the same level of cover even as you travel between countries.

The many benefits can also include routine or annual check-ups with your preferred doctor, quick access to a second opinion, and treatment with alternative medicine. You can upgrade or downgrade your policy and add or remove benefits – meaning you stay in control of what matters most to you. 

Here’s to a long life

Increasing life expectancy should be celebrated – and it’s risen fast in many European countries this century. Across the EU, life expectancy at birth reached 81 in 2018. Women can still expect to live longer than men (83.7 years versus 78.2) – but men have closed the gap a little in recent years.

Ageing populations are one of the big trends of the 21st century – and as Eurostat itself has pointed out this adds to the pressure on people in work to support services for the elderly through their taxes.

So, where can people expect the greatest longevity? The ten EU regions with the highest life expectancy for women at birth in 2018 were all in just two countries: Spain and France. For men, four of the top five regions were in Italy, with the only exception being Madrid (which also topped the women’s list).

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