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Italy is one of the most iconic and popular destinations in all of Western Europe. The Mediterranean country boasts an impressive standard of living and quality of life for the majority of its population. It also has a high average life expectancy, reaching 79.6 years for men and 85.1 years for women. These achievements are the result of successful welfare measures and well-established health policies.
The healthcare system in Italy is a regionally based national health service known as Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN). It provides universal coverage to citizens and residents, with public healthcare largely free of charge. Treatments which are covered by the public system and a small co-payment include tests, medications, surgeries during hospitalisation, family doctor visits and medical assistance provided by paediatricians and other specialists. Furthermore, medication, out-patient treatments, and dental treatments are also available. However, public healthcare facilities in Italy vary in terms of quality depending on the region.
While the standard of public hospitals in Italy is generally adequate there are some state hospitals that fall well below the standards that some expats would be accustomed to. Therefore, regardless of where one comes from, it is best to organise health insurance before moving to Italy. Without it, issuance of a Permesso di Soggiorno (permit to stay) may not be possible.
Most expats employed in Italy will qualify for the local government healthcare network. In order to check their eligibility for the programme, foreign nationals should pay a visit to the nearest local health authority, the Aziende Sanitaria Locale (ASL), and register with a doctor. Once registered, a health card and a health number will be issued. These will serve as a ticket for free visits to the chosen doctor.
Alternatively, European Union citizens moving to Italy can take advantage of the reciprocal healthcare agreements with their home country. At least three weeks prior to travelling to Italy expats will need to apply for form E111, the certificate of entitlement to treatment.
If moving to Italy as a non-European Union citizen, travellers will be required to have private insurance cover. Upon arrival, there is an eight-day window to visit the local police station and present a health policy that is valid throughout the duration of one’s stay.
Wealthier Italians and expats alike prefer to take private health insurance cover over and above the basic state cover. Those with private insurance can freely choose doctors and specialists and can choose to be treated at private hospitals, thus avoiding long queues and waiting lists to get an appointment.
Private hospitals in Italy boast excellent facilities. Although the comfort and the quality of service at private hospitals are generally superior, the quality of care is likely to be similar to that of public hospitals. It is also worth bearing in mind that some treatments at private hospitals in Italy can be prohibitively expensive without the assistance of a private health insurance policy.
Pharmacies and medication
Most pharmacies in Italy are small, family-run establishments which only deal with medical items. However, they can generally fill most prescriptions. Pharmacists in Italy tend to be knowledgeable and efficient, and it is often possible for pharmacists to recommend medication without a doctor’s prescription. Expats living in larger cities will find that 24-hour pharmacies are readily available, while those in who live in rural areas may have more difficulty sourcing the medication they need afterhours.
Those who have state health cover will qualify for subsidised rates that reduce the cost of most medication. It is advisable to find out the generic name of any long-term prescription drug, as brand names tend to vary from one country to another.
Emergency services and important numbers
In the event of a medical emergency in Italy the number to call would be 118. However, those with a limited understanding of Italian may struggle to find an English-speaking operator. English speakers and those who speak foreign languages can make use of the general EU emergency number, 112.
Emergency services in Italy tend to be responsive and reliable. Expats should be aware that that waiting times for ambulances may be longer in rural areas. It is also advisable that visitors and expats have the number of their home country’s embassy or consulate on hand for cases of emergency.