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COVID-19 TESTS

German Health Minister wants to scrap free rapid Covid tests for all

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wants to restrict access to free rapid Covid tests - known as Bürgertests - from July.

A rapid test station in Munich.
A rapid test station in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

According to the Health Ministry’s paper detailing Germany’s autumn Covid strategy, taxpayer-funded antigen Covid-19 tests will in future only be free to patients with Covid symptoms as well as some other selected groups. 

The plans were sent on Tuesday to the health ministers of the federal states, ahead of meetings being held on Wednesday and Thursday. 

Free Covid tests – also known as Schnelltests – are available at no cost to everyone in Germany, including tourists, until the end of June. 

However, they are not cheap – the federal government has reportedly spent more than €10.5 billion on free Bürgertests during the pandemic. Authorities also believe the free testing strategy has resulted in fraud of up to €1.5 billion.

On Tuesday evening, Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats, told German broadcaster ARD that he wants to see the tests “better controlled”.

READ ALSO: Will Germany keep free tests after June?

Under the Health Ministry’s plans, free antigen Covid tests would still be available in the following situations:

– For people with Covid symptoms.

– As part of preventive testing in nursing homes and hospitals.

– For children and people with increased contacts, for example before large events.

– For anyone who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons, for example during pregnancy in the first trimester.

– During outbreaks in Covid hotspots.

– For refugees fleeing war in Ukraine.

It’s not clear how this would work in practice. If the plans go ahead, it would mean that anyone who doesn’t have symptoms but wants to get a rapid Covid test, and who doesn’t fall into one of these categories, would have to pay for a test themselves at a centre or buy a self-test kit.

PCR tests are already generally only available free-of-charge to people with Covid-19 symptoms, or vulnerable groups. A doctor or other health professional can arrange this for patients, and the tests are then covered by health insurance. 

The Health Minister says in the proposals that Germany’s easily accessible testing infrastructure – including in pharmacies – should be maintained.

However, the federal government wants to pay the test centres less money per rapid antigen test and PCR test in future.

“The total costs are to be reduced by about half,” the Health Ministry writes in its strategy paper. The amendment to the test regulation is to be made by the end of June, the ministry adds.

READ ALSO: The Covid rules in place across German states

What’s the reaction?

Many people want to see free tests continue to be available in Germany. 

The Stiftung Patientenschutz (Patient Protection Foundation), for instance, is calling for free tests to be extended beyond June 30th.

Meanwhile, Green Party health expert Janosch Dahmen told Deutschlandfunk radio: “We are in favour of having widely available free tests in the population also in autumn.”

Yet others support a change in testing strategy.

The chairman of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV), Andreas Gassen, said: “We should put a stop to random Bürgertests as soon as possible – they are of very little use and cost a lot.”

The proposals will be discussed at the talks between health ministers this week.

READ ALSO: German states seek powers to enforce tougher Covid rules in autumn

Member comments

  1. I have a question for the good people at the local

    Authorities also believe the free testing strategy has resulted in fraud of up to €1.5 billion. <– Why is this 1 sentence in a news article and not news by its own right. People are stealing 1.5 billion from tax payers pockets. Why is no one enraged by this?

    Thats at least 18€ has been taken from my pocket and given to a criminal. Thats the fraud they are willing to admit. Which means its probably alot worse. But don't worry, now only people with symptoms can get a free test. A symptom of Omicron is a headache. Hmm. I cannot see any scope for fraud there. Nope. None. I wonder has anyone else taken advantage of easy fraud without consequences during this period?

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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

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

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point. 

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