Healthcare in Italy

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Italy is the sixth largest country in Europe. The majority of the population has a high standard of living and quality of life resulting from well-established health policies and welfare measures.

Italian Healthcare at a glance

Italy has the second highest average life expectancy in the EU, reaching 79.4 years for men and 84.5 years for women (2011). The healthcare system in Italy is a regionally based national health service known as Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN). It provides universal coverage, with public healthcare free of charge at the point of service. Healthcare facilities vary in terms of quality in different regions of Italy.

Standard of Hospital care in Italy

Italy’s healthcare system is a regionally organised National Health Service (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, SSN) that provides universal coverage largely free of charge at the point of delivery. The Ministry of Health is the main institution responsible for public health at the national level. The regions are responsible for organising and delivering health care.

Local health authorities (Aziende Sanitarie Locali) deliver public health, community health services and primary care services. Secondary and specialist care is delivered through either public hospitals or accredited private providers. According to the National Health Plan, primary care represents the first point of contact with the SSN. The primary care network promotes the maintenance of health, health education and diagnosis and treatment of disease in different settings. GPs and paediatricians have a gatekeeping role and are responsible for referring patients to specialist or further levels of care. GPs are self-employed and independent doctors.

Inpatient hospital care is delivered through a network of hospitals, which can be either public or private institutions. These facilities provide both outpatient care and inpatient care. Private hospitals are comparable with any throughout the world. However, there are some state hospitals in Italy that are substandard, providing a comfort level below what most Northern Europeans and Americans would expect. These hospitals are normally found in Southern Italy. In light of this, expatriates and Italians alike, prefer to consider private health insurance to cover the expensive costs of hospitalisation and surgery, and to help combat the long waiting lists to that are common in most state systems.

The National Health System of Italy

The National Health System of Italy (SSN), offers inexpensive healthcare to all European citizens. In-patient treatments which are covered include tests, medications, surgeries during hospitalisation, family doctor visits and medical assistance provided by paediatricians and other specialists. The health system is also responsible for drugs and medicines, out-patient treatments, and dental treatments. Regardless of where one comes from, it is imperative that you have health insurance form the moment you arrive in Italy. Without it, issuance of a permesso di soggiorno (permit to stay) is not possible.

Getting the right health insurance

If you are employed in Italy, your employer is obliged to pay for your health insurance. You can pay a visit to the nearest local health authority, the Azienda SanitELocale (ASL), and then register with your doctor. Once you are registered, a health card and a health number will then be issued. This will serve as your ticket for free visits to your doctor. In turn, your doctor will then issue you with the proper prescriptions, along with any necessary referrals.
On the other hand, if you are a European Union citizen that is paying a visit to Italy, take advantage of the reciprocal healthcare agreements. Before you arrive, you are required to apply for form E111, (the certificate of entitlement to treatment), at least three weeks prior to travelling. However, if you are visiting Italy and you are not a European Union citizen, you are required to have private insurance cover. Upon arrival, you have eight days to visit the local police station and present a health policy that is only valid within the duration of your stay.

Drugs and medical products

If you are in need of prescription medicines and other drugs, your family doctor will issue you a prescription that you can present to the pharmacy. Most pharmacies in Italy are small, family-run establishments and they only deal with medically related items. However, if you have state health cover, you will qualify for subsidised rates that reduce the cost of your medicines; otherwise you are required to pay in full. If you are taking a prescription drug on a regular basis, it may be worthwhile to find out the medicines’ generic name as brands normally vary from one country to another.

Private or state cover?

Italians and expatriates prefer to take private health insurance cover over and above the basic state cover. With private insurance, you can freely choose your own doctor and specialist and be treated at private hospitals, thus avoiding those long queues to get an appointment for a medical specialist. Private hospitals in Italy have excellent accommodations, some which are comparable to five-star hotels. Although the comfort and the quality of service from private hospitals are superior, the medical care is likely to be similar to that of public hospitals. It should also be noted that private hospital treatments in Italy are very expensive.

Other Italian health services

Through referrals from medical practitioners, medical auxiliary services by nurses, chiropodists, or physiotherapists are available, depending on where you live. There are some locations in which a nurse will be obliged to charge a fee for a home visit. Additionally, free counselling for relationship and family problems is also available through a network of different local health centres, wherein appointments can be made without requiring a doctor’s referral.

Quotes are available upon request for international health insurance for individuals or employees.

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