Known to provide very low cost healthcare services, Italy is renowned for a high standard of healthcare. However, there are some concerns that need to be examined.
Healthcare in Italy
Despite reputations and considerable prejudices, even by most Italians, Italy has an affordable healthcare system and a high standard of medical assistance. Italian doctors are well-trained and very passionate about their profession, and the private hospitals are comparable with any. 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 hospitalization 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, called the Servizio Sanitario Nazioanale, offers inexpensive healthcare to all European citizens. In-patient treatments which are covered include tests, medications, surgeries during hospitalization, 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 medical related items. However, if you have state health cover, you will qualify for subsidized 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.
As mentioned, some Italian state hospitals, called ospedali, can be considered substandard. If there is a need for you to be hospitalized, obtain a doctor's referral from your medical practitioner. You may be entitled to free treatment if you qualify for the state health coverage plan. Italian state hospital rooms normally have three to six beds but you can still avail of single rooms; you will however, have to pay a supplemental charge for this. Generally speaking, these single rooms are not equipped with either a television set or a bedside telephone. Additionally, under the National Health System, you can request to be treated in hospitals in nearby cities.
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.