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HEALTH

Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

The government passes on the costs for ambulances, but the compulsory health insurance might cover the payments - in some very specific cases.

Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

Austria has a health system with compulsory health insurance for its citizens, similar to many of its neighbouring countries. Everyone is insured, either by their employer, themselves, or, in some cases, by the state.

However, the insurance models can get complicated and the “who pays for what” question can result in some costly responses. In the case of an emergency, when an ambulance is called, the professional rescue is made by the government ambulances and rescue service.

The costs are then paid for by the health insurance fund, with 75 per cent of Austrians covered by the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK).

Can the health insurance companies refuse? 

The health insurance companies refuse to cover the costs for four main reasons, according to the City of Vienna: when the person is not insured at the time of the rescue operation, when there is no “medical emergency”, in cases of alcohol or drug abuse, and in case the person is found dead when the emergency services arrive.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

The exceptions are not without controversy, and patient lawyer Sigrid Pilz criticises the “lack of love in the procedure”, according to statements she has given in Austrian media.

There is also very little clarity on what qualifies as a “medical emergency”, and the health insurer says that it will cover costs when the insured person is “unable to talk and cannot use public transport due to their physical or mental condition, even with an accompanying person”.

“Only medical reasons count”, according to the ÖGK website.

Air rescue in Austria

Another significant exception to the insurance coverage concerns air rescue. The ÖGK says that it will cover the costs of domestic transport by aircraft if the patient is in danger of death, and the urgency calls for air transport. Additionally, the medical necessity must be proven by a doctor and recognised by the ÖGK.

The insurance company highlights that this does not include “accidents in the practice of sport and tourism on the mountain” – a not so rare occurrence in the Alpine country.

On its website, ÖGK reiterates that it “recommends taking appropriate precautions. Otherwise, an emergency can quickly become a big financial problem”.

The “appropriate precautions”, according to expert lawyers, would include hiring private insurance.

How much does it cost to call an ambulance?

The fees for emergency rescue are set by the municipal council in Austria. In Vienna, there is a lump payment of €709 for any use of the public rescue service – even if both assistance and transport have been deemed unnecessary.

There is also a €30 fee for each kilometre driven if the assistance is needed outside the city limits.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How freelancers in Austria can pay four times less in social insurance

The fee is valid from the moment an ambulance leaves its station. In practical terms, this means that if somebody faints on the street and a third person calls the ambulance in concern, emergency service will come. Even if the patient wakes up well and does not require assistance, they will receive a €709 bill.

There are several cases of people who called an ambulance after foot injuries, or due to high fever, for example, and as they were not considered “severe enough”, received the payment request.

It is worth mentioning that there are also ways to waive or reduce the fee, including in cases of low income or after direct negotiation with the insurance company.

It is not difficult to find examples, especially among immigrant groups and Austrian media.

In one case, shared on social media, Irina B. was a student in Vienna when she got sick with a high fever and dry cough – before the coronavirus pandemic. She decided to call the emergency ambulance and received a quick checkup at home and the recommendation to “drink a lot of tea”.

“On the day after, I went to my doctor, and he gave me treatment recommendations. I almost forgot about this story, but four months later I received a letter asking me to pay around € 700”, she wrote.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s new rules around sick leave for employees?

She decided to go to the main insurance office with her doctor’s sick note. The ÖGK representative told her to call the general health line 1450 in cases such as hers in the future and waived the payment.

“He said it was my first penalty, and I also suppose the certificate from my doctor really helped”, Irina said.

What should you do to avoid the high ambulance costs?

The best way to avoid ambulance costs is to call the Austrian health line at 1450. The health workers are trained to give advice on the phone.

They can quickly assess whether you need an ambulance or not – they can also call for you immediately.

The health line can also give medical advice if there is no emergency and call a doctor to your house if necessary.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s ‘tick vaccine’ and should you take it?

Whenever travelling, even inside Austria, primarily if you practise winter sports, it is worth considering private insurance with air rescue coverage.

Costs for helicopter rescues could add up to thousands of euros. The compulsory insurers will not cover in most cases.

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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Vienna legally

Got an unwanted mattress, fridge, or sofa? Here’s how you can legally get it off your hands in Vienna.

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Vienna legally

If you find yourself with a large piece of furniture or big household appliance that has seen its prime and is not bound to the trashcan, then you might be wondering where to dispose of them – legally, that is.

Even if it is not uncommon to see furniture or appliances next to the big trashcans often placed near households and apartment complexes, it is illegal to leave them there.

Different cities have different methods – some will even pick up trash at specific times and places. To know how your city deals with bulky waste (Sperrmüll), you can google “Sperrmüll + the name of your city”.

READ ALSO: Why does Vienna’s waste department have a helicopter and a military plane?

Vienna has several waste collection points where you can leave bulky waste, electrical appliances, hazardous waste (in household quantities) and other old goods for no charge.

The use of the Wiener Mistplätze is subject to certain quantity limits and requirements, but they are to avoid industrial use. Therefore, most households will have no problem with the limitations.

Here you can find several collection points in Vienna.

It is worth pointing out that delivery to those sites can only be made by cars with Viennese license plates, on foot or by bicycle. Furthermore, no trailers or company cars are allowed to leave trash at these collection points.

What can you bring to the collection centres?

This is the place to bring large sheets of plastic foil, bulky or large metal parts and electrical appliances, for example.

Additionally, you can bring small amounts of bulky waste, wood, styrofoam, large cardboard boxes, green waste and used tires to any waste collection centres.

Depending on what you are disposing of, you might need to go to the Rinter centre, one of the larger ones.

READ ALSO: Hasta la mista, baby? How to vote for your favourite Vienna trash can joke

The centres also have a separate division where it is possible to donate old items still in good condition, the so-called 48er-Tandler-Box.

Tableware, small furniture, electrical appliances, clothes, toys and other items can be reused and bought at a low price at the 48er-Tandler reuse shop.

Most centres are open only from Monday to Friday during business hours, but others are also available on Saturdays.

What to do if I don’t have a car?

If you don’t need a car but still need to dispose of a large appliance, the Viennese solution varies.

Some will take public transport with a couple of friends trying to help them carry an old sofa via the u-bahn, although that can get a little tough at peak hour. 

Alternatively, you can borrow or rent a vehicle to try and save costs.

READ ALSO: The downsides of Vienna you should be aware of before moving there

But Vienna City also has a service that will pick up the trash for a low fee – even if it is located in the attic, a basement or a courtyard.

It’s the Entrümpelungsdienst und Sperrmüllabfuhr der MA 48. You can also ask for the “dump service” when the city of Vienna brings a trough (the smallest can fit 12 cubic meters).

Once you fill it up, they will remove it and take it to the appropriate place.

Costs will depend on the amount of trash, the size of the appliance, and where in the household it is located.

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