All of the German-speaking countries enjoy a high level of health care. Infant mortality rates are lower and life expectancy is higher than are those of the United States. The German health care system was taken as a model by the Clinton administration in its efforts to reform the U.S. system. While not without its problems, the Austrian and German government-sponsored Krankenkasse (sickness fund) system helps provide universal coverage in Austria and Germany. Switzerland relies on private insurance, as does the U.S.
Most Europeans are accustomed to socialized, cradle-to-grave health care paid for by the employer, employee, and taxes. In Germany, the average employee salary contribution is about 13 percent (ranging from 8-16 percent). The unemployed, retirees, or those on welfare get government-paid coverage. Because of minimum income requirements, about half of the working population, mostly blue-collar workers, have no choice of which health plan they will join. The more affluent can opt out of the system, and private coverage is available for people who can afford to avoid the basic care of public facilities. A non-German resident will not be covered by the Krankenkasse unless qualifying through a German employer. Upon entering a hospital for treatment, a German presents a [Versicherungskarte or insurance card]. Payments to doctors, the hospital, or a health spa for in-patient or out-patient care go directly to the health care provider; the patient pays a modest share of only about 10 euros per day for a hospital visit.
A Drogerie, despite its name, doesn’t sell drugs or medicines. A German “drug store” is more of a mini-mart for beauty products, toiletries, and detergents, but not medicines. The Apotheke is the German equivalent of a pharmacy. But you can’t simply pick out a box of aspirin and pay for it. All the Arzneimittel or medications, prescription or not, are located behind the counter or in the back room.
Designated Apotheken stay open all night. To find out which one is open, any nearby Apotheke has a sign in the door indicating the one that is open that night. This information is also published in most German daily newspapers [and on the Web]. The Apotheker can also help you avoid a trip to the doctor (Arzt) by giving you pharmacological advice. If you ask the pharmacist about a medical problem, he or she will usually be able to provide an appropriate ointment, pill, or salve. If you don’t speak German, many pharmacists speak English. If you have a written prescription (Rezept) from a doctor, there is very little difficulty.
People in the German-speaking world are very health conscious. They are interested in prevention (Vorbeugung) as well as cure. Health foods, vitamins, natural foods, biologically-grown foods (Biokost), and herbal teas can be purchased at a Reformhaus or Bioladen. A Kurort is a resort for preventative medicine, recovery, or cure. It can be a spa (Kurbad) or a resort famed for its fresh air and climate (Luftkurort). Europeans, especially the German-speaking ones, hold taking the waters in high regard. A few days at a Bad (baht) or spa can do wonders for anyone’s health, even if it’s just to relax you. But various spas or Bäder (BAY-der) are known for waters that cure a specific health problem; certain spas have water with particular minerals that are claimed to be best for certain ailments. Taking the waters (eine Kur machen) can involve drinking them, swimming in them, or both. Going to a spa or Bad is also covered by Austrian and German health insurance plans. A doctor may prescribe eine Kur.
Baden-Baden, Bad Homburg, Baden-Württemberg, Wiesbaden, Bad Dürkheim, and all the other German place names with some form of Bad, derive their meaning from the Roman baths or spas that were once located there. Many, such as Baden-Baden, still attract visitors to their baths today. The word Bad in front of a German town’s name is an official designation as a Heil- und Kurbad, a health and curative spa.
One area in which German Europe seems to be less health conscious than most of North America is smoking. For Germans over the age of 17, the smoking rate is a shocking 44 percent for males and 37 percent for females. [in 1996] Despite health warnings on cigarette packages and ads similar to those in the U.S., Austrians, Germans, and Swiss continue to light up more than Americans…
German-speaking scientists and physicians have long been leaders in pioneering medical breakthroughs. The vital medical tool of x-rays was discovered by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845-1923) and the German word for x-ray is Röntgen. The Austrian physician Leopold von Auenbrugg (1722-1809) developed the diagnostic procedure of tapping a patient's chest or back (percussion) to determine the amount of fluid in the chest, a technique used to this day. Robert Koch (1843-1910) won a Nobel Prize in 1905 for his work on tuberculosis. He also made important discoveries related to anthrax, diphtheria, cholera, and other diseases. Austrian-American Karl Landsteiner (1868-1943) discovered the four primary blood types in 1901. He came to the U.S. in 1922 and received the Nobel Prize for medicine for his work in immunology und virus diseases. Aspirin was invented by a chemist with the German Bayer chemical firm in 1893. One of the most famous doctors of all time was born in German Alsace, now in France. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) spent most of his life in French Equatorial Africa caring for the native inhabitants. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.
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Book excerpt ©1997-1999 McGraw-Hill/Passport Books
- Medications and Prescriptions in Germany
- Rx for Drugs in Germany (GW Expat Blog)
- Sigmund Freud and Freud links
- Famous People — Germans, Austrians, and Swiss
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