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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

READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Will retirees benefit from Germany’s energy relief package?

Students, freelancers, benefits claimants and employees are all set to get a financial boost from the German government this year - but have they forgotten about pensioners?

Reader question: Will retirees benefit from Germany's energy relief package?

Record levels of inflation, spiralling energy prices and fears of shortages… the news has been getting worse and worse for consumers in recent months.

At the start the year, the government announced it would be stepping in with numerous measures to help people pay their bills during these difficult months. But as more details of the measures emerged, there appeared to be one major omission: financial support for pensioners.

To find out whether pensioners will benefit from the relief packages, it’s worth taking a look at each of the measures in turn. In most cases, pensions have sadly been left out of the equation, but there are a few things that may help cushion their rising living costs.

READ ALSO:

€9 ticket and fuel tax cut 

We’ll start with the good news: the €9 monthly travel ticket and cut in energy tax on fuel are both designed to benefit everyone, including pensioners.

Unfortunately, the fuel tax cut doesn’t appear to have dampened prices at the pump very much. However, pensioners can enjoy cheap public transport throughout June, July and August with the €9 ticket. 

Überlingen Am Bodensee

Passengers exit a regional train in Baden-Württemberg at Überlingen am Bodensee. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Felix Kästle

This is obviously great news for retirees who live in cities and parts of the country with good transport networks – but less good news for those who use their car to get around. 

The government’s third mobility measure – an increase in the commuter allowance to 38 cents per kilometre – is also unlikely to benefit the vast majority of pensioners. This measure allows workers who commute long distances to offset some of these costs in their tax returns. 

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

€300 allowance for taxpayers

This flagship energy relief measure – a one-off payment for taxpayers – is another bit of support that pensioners may miss out on. 

The one exception would be pensioners who still work a part-time job to prop up their income.

Even if you’re only working a couple of hours a week, you’ll be entitled to a €300 bonus come September. It’s worth mentioning that this is taxable – but if you don’t earn enough to pay tax, the entirety of the €300 is yours to keep.

However, there may be a way that pensioners can get hold of the money even if they don’t have a regular job. As CDU finance expert Antje Tillmann explains: “It is enough, for example, that a pensioner looks after his grandson for one hour once in 2022 and receives €12 minimum wage from his children in return as part of a mini-job or from self-employment.

“Subsequently, he declares this income in the tax return and gets the energy price lump sum paid out in May 2023.”

READ ALSO: Who gets Germany’s €300 allowance – and when?

One-time heating allowance

As part of its first energy relief package, the government announced that recipients of housing benefit would be eligible for a one-time payment to help with their heating costs.

This is set at €270 for a one-person household and €350 for a two-person household, plus €70 for each additional family member. 

Pensioners who received housing benefit at any time between October 2021 and March 2022 should be eligible for this allowance, as well as people who currently receiving it. 

Pensioner counting money

A German pensioner counts cash in the kitchen. Pensioners who receive social support from the state could be eligible for one-off payouts. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

One-time allowance for benefits recipients

Pensioners who receive Grundsicherung (basic allowance) should be eligible for a one-time lump sum of €200, which will also be paid out to Hartz IV recipients.

Other allowances, such as the €100 Kinderbonus and €100 for people receiving Arbeitslosengeld I, are sadly unlikely to apply to pensioners. 

Scrapping of the EEG levy

The Renewable Energy Act (EEG) levy, which adds about 3.7 cents per kilowatt hour onto consumers’ energy bills, is set to be scrapped on July 1st.

This should benefit anyone with an electricity contract, including pensioners.

Tax relief measures

The government is raising the tax-free allowance for 2022 to €10,347 and raising the value of automatically deductible expenses to €1,200 per year.

Neither of these measures will benefit pensioners who don’t pay tax. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: What Germany’s budget means for you

To sum up: Which measures can pensioners benefit from?

  • €9 ticket (for public transport users)
  • Fuel tax cut (for drivers)
  • Scrapping of EEG levy 

Pensioners claiming welfare could also benefit from:

  • €270 allowance for housing benefit recipients, and
  • €200 allowance for Grundsicherung recipients

Pensioners do seem to be getting a slightly raw deal in comparison to those in employment. However, there are some general measures they may benefit from, and those who are already getting help from the state should also receive a small income boost. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Germany’s plans to ditch sanctions for the unemployed

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