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EXPLAINED: The three new services covered by German health insurance

A few additional services are now covered by public health insurance companies in Germany. Here's what you need to know about the changes.

A GP's waiting room
An open door directs people to the doctors' waiting room. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

From the start of October, people with public health insurance can get three new healthcare services paid for by their insurance provider. 

People over 35, new parents and people with mental health difficulties are all set to benefit from the changes, which were announced by the Federal Joint Committee (G-BA) of doctors, health insurance companies and clinics last month. 

Here’s a rundown of the new services you’ll be covered for if you have statutory health insurance in Germany. 

1. Screening newborn babies 

Newborn babies in Germany can be given an optional health screening after birth, which is generally reimbursed by their parents’ health insurance.

From October, these check-ups will also include screening for two additional rare diseases: sickle cell disease and spinal muscular atrophy. This means that newborn children will be now checked for 16 different diseases, rather than the previous 14 – all covered by their parents’ statutory health insurance. 

Around 150 children in Germany suffer from sickle cell disease each year. The disease causes red blood cells to twist and take on a sickle shape. According to the GBA, doctors often take months or years to discover the disease if newborn babies aren’t given an early blood-test.

If discovered shortly after birth and carefully monitored and treated, however, complications such as damage to the child’s organs can be avoided. 

Spinal muscular atrophy is also an incredibly rare disease that affects an estimated 80-120 newborn children each year. The genetic disease leads to the progressive death of motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, leading to muscle weakness and skeletal deformities. If left untreated, it can lead to death. If the disease is treated early, affected children can nonetheless develop crucial motor skills such as sitting, crawling or walking well.

READ ALSO: From Elternzeit to midwives: An American’s view on having a baby in Germany

The check-up for newborns is generally done by taking a few drops of blood from the baby’s heel one-and-a-half to three days after birth.

According to the G-BA, an estimated one in 1,000 newborns has a rare congenital disease that is not yet recognisable by external signs – but early detection and treatment through screenings like this one can often prevent disabilities and deaths. 

2. Hepatitis B and C screenings for over-35s 

Under German law, people aged 35 and over are entitled to a comprehensive health examination, known as a check-up, every three years. This is covered by health insurance companies and includes a full screening to check overall health. In the future, these free check-ups will also screen for Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C alongside other potential health issues. 

The aim is to discover asymptomatic infections at an early stage in order to treat them with antiviral drugs in good time. According to the G-BA, chronic untreated hepatitis can have severe consequences and sometimes lead to liver cancer. 

A doctor consults a parent with a young child
A doctor consults a parent with a young child. From October, newborn babies will be screened for additional rare diseases at no extra cost. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

People over 35 who had their last check up less than three years ago but didn’t get the Hepititis screeaning can now get a free-of-charge Hepatitis B and C test anytime before their next check-up, the G-BA confirmed. 

3. Group therapy trial sessions

Since the start of October, people struggling with mental health issues are able to test out different therapy groups to see if they think they would be a good fit – all covered by their health insurance. 

This means that patients with statutory health insurance can get a taste of group therapy and decide whether it is suitable for them before committing to numerous sessions.

In practice, that means the insurance companies will now cover up to four 100-minute or up to eight 50-minute sessions with the therapist that leads the group. In these one-on-one sessions, the group leader will explain mental disorders and discuss how group therapy works and what it can achieve.

In addition to providing information, the G-BA says these introductory sessions can also be used for therapeautic purposes, meaning patients can also talk to the therapist about their specific mental health issues.

To make it easier for people in distress to access the services, patients shouldn’t need to notify or apply with their health insurance company before attending a session in order to be reimbursed. However, it’s important to note that sessions should be with a certified group therapist or psychotherapist in order to qualify for reimbursements. 

READ ALSO: ‘Stressful experience’: How hard is it to find an English-speaking therapist in Germany?

The German Psychotherapist Association (DPtV) welcomed the move to remove bureaucratic barriers to group psychotherapy, adding that the initial sessions could also help relieve symptoms of mental illness.  

According to the G-BA, another change is that patients can also opt to have trial group therapy sessions within the group itself. If the patient opts to participate in the group setting, they can get to know both the therapist and other group participants to see whether they feel the group dynamics and chemistry would work for them. 

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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.