Medical tourism on the increase


With compulsory health insurance and offering probably the best healthcare in Europe, Germany is fast becoming a destination for specialist healthcare. Harley Street in London admits losing international business to Munich and other big German centres. German hospitals actively target Russians and the Middle East.So why will the number of Germans quitting the country for healthcare tourism rise dramatically?

Germans are finding that dental treatment in former Eastern European countries is as much as 80% less expensive than at home, so it is cheaper to pay to go abroad than to have insured dental treatment at home and pay the self-insured portion of the bill, which can be up to 70% of the total. Germans also go abroad in large numbers for spa treatment.

Although destination countries have talked about German patients, there has been no attempt to guess at numbers travelling for planned treatment, compared to those who have to get treatment when travelling.  A new survey suggests the number of outbound German healthcare tourists is already much higher than expected, and will increase.

German health insurer Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) is pioneering insurance packages enabling its members to seek treatment abroad. A newly released survey done in 2008 found that around 1% of its members had care abroad in 2007, of whom 40% went for scheduled healthcare, rather than for acute and emergency care while travelling. It is the largest German health insurance fund with over five million members and 7.7 million insured persons. The insurer knows how many Germans have healthcare, so very conservatively, it has multiplied its sample to suggest that 272,000 booked ahead for care. This figure excludes spa visits and dental care not claimed back from insurers.

TK leads the way in Germany in signing up foreign hospitals for members.
TK European Service includes a special programme to use spas outside Germany - spa treatment is included in the list of benefits provided by statutory funds in the event of illness. The reason is that the survey found that, if ill, 33% of TK members surveyed said they would decisively take a service allowing them to use foreign spas, and a further 33% would probably make use of it.

Dental treatment in Hungary, including hotel accommodation, is less than half the price of similar treatment in Germany.TK says that dental treatment is up to 80% cheaper in Eastern Europe. There are strong historic links that East Germans had before the fall of the wall with healthcare systems in Hungary and the Czech Republic. Other favoured destinations are Poland, and former Eastern European countries. Asian hospitals should note that neither the insurer nor members show any inclination or desire to go outside Europe for treatment.

The health insurance reform of 2007 requires everyone living in Germany to be insured for at least hospital and outpatient medical treatment. 85% of the 70 million population are mandatory or voluntary members of one of the statutory health insurance schemes while the others have private health insurance.



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