Spas, pregnancy and contraceptives: What Austrian healthcare covers - and what it does not
Austria's healthcare system is strong by international standards and has a few surprises in store. Here's what you need to know.
Austria is blessed with a great health care system.
Life expectancy in Austria is one of the highest in the OECD countries, despite high levels of smoking and alcohol consumption.
Austria's health care system was ranked 9th place by the World Health Organization (WHO) in their international ranking. Health expenditure in Austria represented 10.4 percent as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019.
How does the Austrian healthcare system work?
Health cover is compulsory in Austria for residents as well as those travelling in from other EU countries.
Enrolment in the public health care system is generally automatic and is linked to employment, however insurance is also guaranteed to co-insured persons, such as spouses and dependents, as well as pensioners, students, disabled people, and those receiving unemployment benefits.
The cost is linked to income rather than health needs.
But there are also some surprising quirks to the Austrian healthcare system, particularly for people from abroad.
Some surprising things are covered - while some others are not.
You can be prescribed a break in a spa - but it will be hard work
It is possible to be prescribed a “Kur" which often takes place in an Austrian spa. This differs from a "rehabilitation" which must be prescribed by a doctor, typically following injury or serious illness.
The Kur is is paid for by the pension insurance company (PV), though it must be at the recommendation of a doctor, and is aimed at keeping people in work.
This is not a typical chilled out spa break, people are at pains to point out, and may involve an exhausting regime of physio and massage.
Stays normally last about 22 days, but can be even longer, and there is also the possibility to go abroad for treatment.
Contraception is not covered...
Contraception is not covered under the public health insurance scheme.
Whatever your contraception method, whether it is condoms, the pill or the coil, expect to pay for it yourself.
The only exception is if you need to be prescribed the pill for a medical condition, such as acne or endometriosis.
However, people in Austria report they often have to pay even when contraception is needed for medical reasons.
Austria has been trying to boost birth rates for decades, which is probably why contraception is not covered - but pregnancy treatments are...
...but pregnancy is
Fortunately for anyone becoming a parent (or thinking about it), almost all of the standard costs relating to pregnancy and delivery are covered by statutory health insurance in Austria.
This includes ultrasounds, blood work and visits to your midwife and gynecologist or obstetrician.
Hospital stays before and after delivery are also covered, although patients may in some case be required to pay a nominal fee per day.
The Austrian healthcare system also provides generous leave packages for pregnant women, known as "Mutterschutz" payments.
Parental leave is also generous in Austria. You get paid in full for the eight weeks after childbirth, and up to 12 weeks in case of a C section or multiple birth.
Painkillers are not covered - and they're hard to find and expensive
While many new arrivals won't be surprised to find that standard non-prescription painkillers are not covered by health insurance, they might be surprised by the cost - and that's if they find them at all.
Painkillers such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen are expensive in Austria, particularly when compared to the United States, United Kingdom or Australia.
They can only bought in a pharmacy, rather than a supermarket or a store such as Bipa or DM.
Consequently, some people are prescribed painkillers by the doctor to bring down the cost.
The store DM has wanted to offer over-the-counter drugs in Austria for years, and says it could sell them cheaper than in a pharmacy.
However, the constitutional court has rejected previous attempts to break the pharmacies’ monopoly on these drugs, Vienna AT newspaper reports.
The court decided there was a "public interest" justification for why shops and supermarkets should not be allowed to sell painkillers, with pharmacies "subject to numerous public, professional and disciplinary obligations" to ensure public health.
Controversial homeopathy treatments still occasionally covered
One aspect of Austrian healthcare which people find controversial is homeopathy.
While in the UK homeopathic medicines can no longer be prescribed at the expense of the National Health Service (NHS), in Austria the costs for homeopathic remedies can be covered in exceptional cases - for example when all conventional medical treatment options have been exhausted and homeopathic therapy can improve the situation.
It is also included in some private health insurance packages.