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

Most people in Germany pay for health insurance, but did you know that many providers also have reward schemes that let you earn points for healthy living? Whether you’re a gym bunny or a couch potato, here's how to make the most of them.

Jogger in Dresden, Saxony
A man goes for a jog in Volkspark Großer Garten in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

I’ve got health insurance. What’s all this about rewards?

We’re glad you asked! Health insurance bonus or reward schemes are incentives designed to encourage people to take a more proactive approach to managing their health. 

Generally, people participating in the schemes can collect points for deductions in their healthcare payments or other rewards for doing things to improve their health and wellbeing. They’re available for most people with insurance, regardless of whether you’re employed, self-employed, a student or a pensioner. 

These schemes are entirely voluntary but can be a great way of saving a bit of money on your health insurance for things you might do anyway, like going to the gym or getting a dental check-up.

You won’t face penalties for not completing activities, so there’s no risk involved in participating. 

The idea is that by offering cash or other incentives for people to improve their lifestyle, insurance companies are far less likely to have to shell out money for treatment later on. Ever heard the phrase, “Prevention is better than cure?”. Well, that’s pretty much the motto of these bonus schemes. 

If you have statutory health insurance such as AOK, TK or one of the regional state providers, your insurance is bound by law to offer extras like bonus schemes, so it could be worth checking their website to see what you can find out. 

Private providers may also offer them as a way of enticing new customers and trying to keep their existing customers healthy. 

Maximum bonuses are generally around €300 for a single person and €600 for a family, so participating could be well worth your while.

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

What kind of things count as ‘healthy living’? 

That partially depends on your insurance provider, but generally bonuses are given out for things like getting regular check-ups, going to the gym, visiting the dentist or taking a course on health and wellbeing.

Technische Krankenkasse (TK), for instance, offer 200 points for doing an early cancer screening such as a smear test, 200 points for a dental check-up and 400 points for getting a Covid vaccination. They also offer points for taking part in sports activities and events.

These points can be redeemed for money off your health insurance or issued as a ‘TK Health Dividend’ which can be used to pay for treatments or other healthy activities like courses on health and nutrition. You can find a full list of the activities covered and more about the bonus scheme here.

The other major state health insurance provider, AOK, runs a similar bonus scheme with points doled out for regular check-ups, dental treatment, having a gym membership and Covid-19 vaccination.

They also offer a bonus of 2,000 points (equivalent to €20) for socially conscious activities like donating blood. Find out more about the AOK scheme here

In the case of both TK and AOK, 100 points is equivalent to €1. 

Barmer, a public health insurance that caters to English speakers, also offers a bonus scheme with up to €100 available for things like regular check-ups, having a gym membership and maintaining a healthy BMI. 

Meanwhile, IKKBB, a regional insurance provider for the Berlin-Brandenburg areas, offers a €20 bonus for quitting smoking, €10 for having a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), €75 for regular exercise and other incentives for check-ups and healthy living courses. 

Sounds great – where do I sign up? 

That all depends on your provider, but generally you’ll be able to sign up online in your health insurance’s customer portal, in person at a local branch or in their app. 

If you’re not with any of the providers listed above, you may able to find details of their rewards scheme and how to participate by Googling the name of your provider and the word “Bonusprogramm” (rewards or bonus programme) – or by visiting their website.

You’ll generally be expected to sign a disclaimer to say that you consent to your personal data being used for the purpose of collecting points or cashback. 

After you’ve signed up, you’ll need to prove you’ve taken part in activities by uploading relevant photos or collecting ‘stamps’ on your app or a paper booklet.

People at the gym

Two people run on treadmills at Campus Sports Club in Saarbrücken. Rewards are often earned by having a gym membership or attending classes. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Dietze

So for example, if you’ve just been to the hygienist, you may need to get them to confirm the activity in your in-app activity log or by placing a stamp in a booklet that you can then send to your health insurance provider. 

READ ALSO: 12 ways to improve your life in Germany without even trying

In the case of AOK, you can opt to synchronise the Bonus App with a fitness tracker like FitBit and enter data on your sports activities that way.

Other activities, such as check-ups, may also be tracked automatically by your insurance provider if you are enrolled in the scheme. 

Contact your insurance or consult their website to find out more about the kind of evidence they require for the bonus scheme. 

Does this affect my taxes in any way? 

It may do – but it all depends on how much you ‘earn’ in bonuses.

Generally, taxpayers can declare their health insurance contributions – whether statutory or private – as special expenses in their tax return. This reduces the taxable income and, with it, the amount of tax you have to pay.

However, if you receive, say, €200 off your insurance bill, you need to make sure this is calculated in the tax bill – which basically means you’ll have fewer expenses to write off.

There is some good news for taxpayers, however. According to a recent report by Handelsblatt, the first €150 in bonuses earned does not need to be accounted for in your tax return.

In order to simplify things for taxpayers, up to €150 is classified as benefits from the statutory health insurance fund and therefore shouldn’t be deducted from expenses, the Ministry of Finance confirmed.

Above this amount, only the ‘surplus’ is counted – so in the case of a €200 bonus, only €50 would be deducted from the total amount you’ve spent on health insurance that year. 

What else do I need to know?

According to the German Consumer Rights Centre (VZ), the devil tends to be in the detail with these bonus programmes – so make sure you know all of the relevant terms and conditions.

Generally, health insurance providers will try and entice you with incredible looking bonuses of €300 or more, but be aware that this is the maximum you can earn – not the standard payout. Unless you’re an absolute superhuman when it comes to health (or have a lot of time on your hands), the real bonus is likely to be a fair bit less.

You may also notice that not all of the activities required to collect points are free of charge, so these may only worth doing if you’re keen to do them for the health benefits rather than the financial gain. Others, like online health courses, may be subsidised or offered for free by your insurance – so be sure to read up on what’s on offer.

If you’re signing up with a partner or family members who are covered on your insurance, it’s worth reading up on the rules. Some programmes will allow you to pool points with your family members or transfer them to another person on your insurance, but generally this doesn’t work in all directions.

Child Covid jab

A five year old boy receives a Covid vaccination in Frankenthal, Rhineland-Palatinate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

For example, parents may be able to share points with their children but not the other way around. Equally, you may find that a partner who’s included on the insurance is offered a slightly less generous rewards scheme than the person paying into the pot. That means that you may want to think twice before sharing your points or consider transferring them to the person with the best bonuses, if possible.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to bring up a child in Germany?

Another thing to consider are deadlines for gathering and/or submitting points. Some insurers such as TK specify that you have to gather a minimum number of points in order to receive a reward, so be sure to do this in the allotted time to prevent points being wasted.

Often, bonus schemes run for a year and points are finalised by March 31st, so if you join a new health insurance in January you may have to rush to get your activities in in order to save that year. Others may link the deadline to your registration date, giving you 12 or 13 months from when you sign up to collect points and earn rewards. 

Check with your health insurance provider for any deadlines and T&Cs, and be aware that your points will be invalidated if you switch providers before redeeming them. 

Vocabulary

Bonus/rewards programme – (das) Bonusprogramm

collect points – Punkte sammeln 

special (tax) expenses – (die) Sonderausgaben 

check-up – (der) Gesundheitscheck 

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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MONEY

REVEALED: The everyday products getting less expensive in Germany

Inflation rates are soaring in Germany - but the jump in prices hasn't affected all consumer goods. Here are a few of the thing that have actually become cheaper in recent months.

REVEALED: The everyday products getting less expensive in Germany

The cost of living is rising at an alarming pace. In April, the inflation rate in Germany hit a stunning 7.4 percent – the highest it’s been in more than 40 years.

In real terms, that means that many people will be getting poorer year by year, unless they’re lucky enough to have got a stellar pay rise at work. 

When you dig down into the nitty gritty of the price rises though, the cost hikes are quite unevenly spread across different goods and services. 

The Local has reported regularly on the dizzying rise in the cost of fuel and energy, as well as the food items – like milk and fresh meat – that are getting more expensive by the week.

READ ALSO: What to know about the latest price hikes in German supermarkets

In April, energy prices rose by 35.3 percent, while prices for heating oil almost doubled. Consumers also had to pay significantly more for fuel (38.5 per cent) and natural gas (47.5 per cent).

Meanwhile, the weekly grocery shop has also gone up in price, with food costs on average 8.6 percent more expensive than in April last year. Edible fats and oils (27.3 percent) and meat products (11.8 percent) were the items that went up most steeply. 

But not everything is going up in price so dramatically, and some everyday items have even got cheaper over the past few years.

Here’s what consumers in Germany are saving money on today compared to last year.

Digital services and software

Some of the biggest drops in prices over the past year have been in the online and digital sectors, which is great news for anyone looking to pick up a new entertainment system or a new Wifi contract for their home. 

According to the Federal Office of Statistics (Destasis), computer operating systems and other types of software saw the biggest drop in price between April 2021 and April 2022. In fact, people purchasing a software subscription or operating system this spring are likely to have paid around 14.3 percent less than customers who purchased the same software last year.

Destatis also noted that Wifi and internet services have become cheaper in recent months. Since April 2021, the cost of “wireless telecommunications services” (otherwise known as Wifi) has decreased by 2.4 percent, while “access to online services has internet” is 0.8 percent cheaper.

Anyone’s who’s been saving up for a new TV, DVD players or satellite dish will also be pleased to discover that these products currently cost around one percent less than they did in April last year. 

Other electronic devices such as headphones, headsets, e-book readers and digital picture frames fell in price by 1.3 percent between March 2021 and March 2022. Renting videos or DVDs became 0.8 per cent cheaper over the same period.

READ ALSO: 

Wine and sweet treats

While it’s true that most of the weekly grocery shop has gone up in price, some surprising items are actually cheaper now than they were a year ago.

In fact, you can get a romantic dinner for two today for less than you could a year ago, since a plate of seafood is 1.6 percent cheaper and a bottle of wine is 0.8 percent cheaper. Home bakers can also enjoy things like puff pastry and baking mixes for less.

People with a sweet tooth seem to be the biggest winners this year: they can now enjoy a bar of chocolate for less, since the price of chocolate has dipped by three percent since last April, and also make savings of 2.3 percent on any artificial sweeteners they buy. 

Milk and white chocolate bars on display in Berlin.

Milk and white chocolate bars on display in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

The other treat that is getting cheaper is ice cream. Just in time for summer, the cost of your ice-cream sundae or Eiskugel in Waffel (ice cream in a cone) has dropped by one percent. 

OK, it may only be a few cents lower, but we still think it’s a good reason not to feel guilty about treating to yourself to an ice cream on a sunny day. 

READ ALSO: German consumers to be hit by further price hikes in supermarkets

Household appliances

Though many household expenses have gone up this year, a few common household goods are currently bucking the trend. 

For soup and smoothie addicts, a staple appliance has decreased in price over the past twelve months. In fact, buying an electric mixer, food processor or blender will set you back 2.8 percent less this year than in April 2021.

Prices for electric irons (-0.5 percent), hoovers (-0.8 percent) and “other large household appliances” (-1.2 percent), which includes water softeners, sewing machines and safes, have also gone down.

READ ALSO: The products getting more expensive and harder to find in Germany

Home and contents insurance

At a time when people have been spending more time at home due to Covid-19, the cost of home-related insurance has gone down.

According to Destasis, the price of “insurance services connected with the dwelling”, which means home and contents insurance, has gone down by around 1.8 percent year on year. 

Glasses and contact lenses

Glasses and contact lenses can be a big expense for anyone who needs them, so people with less-than-perfect eyesight will be pleased to know that the price of both of these has gone down slightly in the past year.

As of April 2022, the price of glasses and contact lenses has gone down by around 1.8 percent on average. 

Designers sunglasses at an auction house in Cologne

Designers sunglasses at an auction house in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

Clothes and shoes have also been trending downwards over the course of this year: back in February, women’s clothes were around 3.3 percent cheaper than they were in February 2021, while men’s clothes had dropped 0.7 percent in price.

Meanwhile, shoes would have set you back around 0.7 percent less on average, with women’s shoes once again showing the steepest decrease at minus 2.9 percent.

Children were the only demographic to buck this trend. In fact, children’s clothes had gone up in price by 1.6 percent in February and children’s shoes were up by 1.4 percent. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Germany’s energy relief payouts are no fix for inadequate social security

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