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HEALTH

Reader question: How can I change my German health insurance provider?

The German health insurance system can be a difficult system to navigate, especially for foreigners. We looked at how and why you might want to consider changing your health insurance provider.

A German doctor taking part in a video consultation.
A German doctor taking part in a video consultation. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

Do I need health insurance in Germany?

If you live in Germany then it is a legal requirement to hold health insurance. That can be as part of the statutory public health insurance system (gesetzliche Krankenversicherung) or private (private Krankenversicherung). 

The majority of Germans – around 89 percent – have public health insurance. The providers are often called Krankenkassen.

Okay, is it possible to change my Krankenkasse?

Foreigners in Germany who may be unfamiliar with the German system are often unaware that they are able to change their health insurance provider. Perhaps they joined one of the big companies like Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) or AOK and have stayed with them ever since arriving in Germany. 

But it’s worth keeping in mind that there are alternatives out there. 

Why would I change, and is it actually possible?

Health insurance providers regularly raise their additional contributions (Zusatzbeitrag) meaning you have to pay more. The providers usually announce their rates for the coming 12 months at the start of the year.

At the start of 2022, one in four people in Germany saw an increase in their health insurance contributions.

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

Those who are affected by increases are given a special right of termination which applies until the end of the month when the health insurance introduced the new contribution rate.

But do not despair, because it is possible to change your Krankenkasse after this point.

The only requirement is a minimum membership of 12 months. So if you’ve been a member of a health insurance provider for a year, you can switch. This period was reduced from 18 months in January 2021, giving consumers a better deal. 

Knowing how difficult it can be to cancel contracts in Germany, it’s fairly simple to switch providers.

Once you have found a suitable health insurance provider, you apply for membership. 

A person holds a German Krankenkasse card while making a phone call.

A person holds a German Krankenkasse card while making a phone call. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

After receiving the application, the new health insurance company calculates the notice period and informs the previous health insurance firm of the wish to change. The previous health insurance company then informs you of the end date of the current insurance contract. 

You can inform your employer about the switch. 

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

This has been made easier since 2021 – before this point you had to provide notice of cancellation to your health insurance provider before switching. 

Keep in mind that public health insurance providers are not allowed to reject anyone on the basis of their health or age. However, there are restrictions for older privately insured people who want to switch to public.

Can I actually save money?

It is definitely possible, but you have to weigh it against the benefits that the health insurance providers offer. 

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

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.

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

But it may be that you want to see what other options are out there to bring the costs down, especially because the costs of living have gone up recently.

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. Self-employed people pay both the employee and employer contribution, though they can get support from the state if they work in a creative profession. 

Beyond that, health insurance providers set an additional contribution (as we mentioned above), which can currently be up to 2.5 percent.

A German doctor with a stethoscope round her neck.

A German doctor with a stethoscope round her neck. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Soeren Stache

The cheapest nationwide health insurance provider is the HKK with a contribution rate total of just under 15.3 percent, reports German news site RND. Those insured with DAK or Barmer pay 16.1 per cent.

With an average gross income (€3,300 per month), this can make a difference of around €160 per year. If you subtract income tax, you save more than €110.

Check with online comparison sites, talk to a health insurance broker or do your research with different companies to find out the best prices for you.

But it might not just be about cost. Perhaps you feel the service in your current health insurance provider isn’t up to scratch, or you’d like to try one of the smaller companies. Or perhaps you want to consider joining a company that provides an English-speaking service. 

One thing to keep in mind is that if you have recently received approval from your insurance provider for a health procedure, but haven’t started it yet, you will have to go through that approval process again if you want to change. 

What about private health insurance?

If you’re insured privately, you can change tariffs, but check that you will be able to afford any rising premiums in future. 

If you are insured under the German public scheme and start to earn more than €64,350 per year, you can change to private health insurance, or you can remain as part of a Krankenkasse with the status of a ‘voluntary member’, and will have to pay the maximum premium.

This report is intended as a guide only and should not take the place of advice from a qualified advisor. Got any questions? Get in touch at [email protected]

Member comments

  1. If only my HR department had clearly explained to me about private health insurance when I was transferred to Germany.
    I was never made aware that I couldn’t leave unless my salary dropped below the threshold.
    I’m now paying nearly 1100 Euro per month.
    In the 10 years I’ve lived here, I have only had 6 doctors appointments, all for minor ailments.

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For members

HEALTH

The vocab you need for a trip to the dentist in Germany

Going to the dentist can be daunting at the best of times and being unsure of the language can make things ten times worse. We’ve put together a guide of the German words and phrases you need to help take some of the pain away.

The vocab you need for a trip to the dentist in Germany

When you arrive at the dentist, you’ll usually be asked if you’re gesetzlich or privat versichert (if you have state or private health insurance) and asked to present your health insurance card. However, for most procedures, you will still have to pay something extra on top. 

The most common reason for a trip to the dentist (Zahnarzt) is having eine Vorsorgeuntersuchung (check-up) or a cleaning appointment (eine Zahnreinigung or eine Prophylaxe) which most dentists recommend having twice a year.

Most health insurers won’t reimburse the full cost of teeth cleaning – so make sure you check beforehand with your Krankenkasse which costs are covered.

In a cleaning appointment, the dentist will remove plaque (der Zahnbelag) and check the health of your teeth (die Zähne) and gums (das Zahnfleisch). If they tell you that they see Karies (tooth decay) then you may be told to come back for another appointment to get a filling (eine Zahnfüllung or eine Plombe).

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

They will certainly remind you at the end of the appointment to use Zahnseide (dental floss) on a daily basis (täglich) and also recommend that you use Interdentalbürsten (interdental brushes) for cleaning in between the teeth.

In the chair

When you actually get into the hot seat, you will be usually asked to do certain things by your dentist or dental assistant (Zahntechniker) so they can do what they need to do.

The first thing you’ll usually be asked to do is ausspülen bitte – to rinse your mouth with mouthwash (die Mundspülung) usually in a plastic cup in a little sink next to the dental chair. They might ask you to keep the liquid in your mouth for a certain number of seconds until they tell you to ausspucken (spit it out).

A woman undergoes a dental examination. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Markus Scholz

When you’re lying down, you’ll inevitably be told Mund öffnen bitte or aufmachen bitte (open your mouth) and likewise, you might be asked to zumachen (close) your mouth at some point. Other typical instructions in the dentist’s chair are: Mundlocker lassen (relax your mouth), Kopf zu mir drehen (turn your head towards me) and Kinn nach oben (chin upwards).

Types of dental issues

There are numerous complaints that could compel you to pay a visit to the dentist, but one of the most common is having a filling (eine Zahnfüllung) or having a crown (eine Zahnkrone).Your health insurance will cover the cost of the most basic kind of material for filling up a cavity, but you will be presented with a price list (or if you aren’t – ask) for the different types of materials for crowns or fillings.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How dental care works in Germany

Another common complaint is having to have a tooth removed (eine Zahnextraction) – a particularly common procedure for a wisdom tooth (der Weisheitszahn). A more serious extraction procedure is a root canal treatment (eine Wuzelkanalbehandlung).

If you have this kind of procedure, you will normally be offered a local anaesthetic (örtliche Betäubung or Lokalanästhesie) and you may also need an X-Ray (ein Röntgen).

More useful phrases and vocabulary

Braces – (die) Zahnspangen

Sensitive teeth – empfindliche

ZähneTooth pain – (der) Zahnschmerz

Dentures – (die) ProtheseI have toothache when I chew/drink – Ich habe Zahnschmerzen beim kauen/trinken

I have light/strong pain on this tooth – Ich habe leichte/starke Schmerzen an diesem Zahn

My gums are inflamed – Ich habe eine Entzündung am Zahnfleisch

I am nervous about the treatment – Ich habe Angst vor der Behandlung

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