Is Healthcare better in Germany?

Sometimes “home” feels a lot further than a 10 hour flight away. My old college roommate was just diagnosed with colon cancer and I don’t know how to express my worry, my concern – all the feelings I am having for her – better than in a facebook message. She is not one for social media so I’m not sure if she’ll see it. Over the decade that I have been out of college we lost touch as we each got married, moved (one of us across the country and an ocean), and generally went about our lives.

Maria Heimsuchung Hospital PHOTO: Erin Porter

But with this news I am brought back to those good ‘ole college days and can’t believe she is facing the C-word. It is among an expats’ greatest fears; not that you will just miss out on the fun things (like weddings), but you won’t be around when things inevitably fall apart.  Just because you’re gone doesn’t mean things stop changing.

In her post, my friend sums up her month as one of “major surgeries, 4ER visits, 2 blood infections, staples, stitches, and a jugular infusion line. Then the 7/3/17 game changer of a colon cancer diagnosis and starting chemo in 4-6 weeks.” She is facing a brutal battle, and one of the major concerns isn’t even the massive health issues she is tackling. It’s financial. As my country (the USA for the uninitiated) continues to claw itself apart over a workable health care system, everyday people need to keep figuring out how to pay for it.

So what of my question, “Is Healthcare better in Germany?”. Hearing about situations back home, it is inevitable that I compare them to Germany. And though almost all of my personal experience with German health care has been with my pregnancy and giving birth in Berlin, my husband is insulin dependent with blood pressure issues and a history of heart surgery (what a winner, right?), so I’ve also had experience through him. In every instance, I have been so impressed with the German health care system.

Just being huge in Berlin PHOTO: Erin Porter

Yes, I think healthcare is better in Germany, and yes, this is largely an opinion piece. I will sprinkle some facts and actual info in here so you can form your own point of view, but will almost definitely fall afoul of Hyde‘s recommendation that “…Saying one way is ‘better’ than another is simply making a judgment based on your own background and experiences.” Let me state my case.

Paying for German Health Insurance

To compensate for the loss of income and enormous expense associated with care, my friend is asking for donations on gofundme. This is not an uncommon practice for people facing financially crippling health care costs. Which medical course to take, to submit for this medical trial or try that drug, sick people in America are also tasked with figuring out how they are going to pay for their treatment. One of the leading causes of bankruptcy in the USA is medical expenses. A Harvard University study showed that 72 percent of those who filed for bankruptcy due to medical expenses had some type of health insurance.

In Germany, on the other hand, public health insurance premiums are percentage-of-salary based, meaning that if you don’t make much money, you don’t pay as much for coverage. And for those varying payments, everyone is entitled to the same benefits.

The system is one of the oldest in the world and compulsory, with all German workers paying about 8 percent of their gross income to a nonprofit insurance company of their choosing. Employers pay roughly the same amount. While much gets made of the high taxes in Germany (and they are high), Americans actually spend more money on health care per person with fewer people covered. Health spending as part of GDP in the USA is 15.3%. In Germany it is 10.7%. A handy NPR online tool allows you to compare International Medical Bills

Benefits of German Health Insurance

Getting back to benefits, German health insurance benefits are much more comprehensive than U.S. coverage. Want acupuncture for migraines or to induce labor? Covered. Sick? Take the week off. Did you strain your back and can’t pick up your toddler? German insurance can cover a helper to shop, cook, and cover childcare. On top of that, deductibles are almost nonexistent.

Even without great coverage (like for travelers), there is no ignoring the fact that care and medication in Germany is much, much cheaper. While you may have to visit the Apotheke (pharmacy) for some aspirin, meds come at a fraction of the price of the USA. When my husband and I first moved to Germany, we paid for his diabetic supplies out of pocket and they were cheaper than what they cost us in the USA with insurance.

In addition to these enormous benefits, I have found fears about wait times for elective surgeries and diagnostic tests to be largely unfounded. There can be a wait, but nothing I found unusual coming from the American system. Europeans also have a longer life expectancy than Americans. Another German-Way Contributor’s perceptions echo some of my same sentiments about the German health care system.

I still have a lot to understand about the German health insurance system and the German-Way is overdue for a full explainer “How To Get German Health Insurance”, so if you have something to say, please leave a comment. And if you feel like contributing to a really awesome person, please throw a little love the way of my friend and her gofundme account.