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Health Insurance in Germany

Germany has a universal multi-payer health care system paid for by a combination of statutory health insurance (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung) and private health insurance (Private Krankenversicherung).

The turnover of the health sector was about US$368.78 billion (€287.3 billion) in 2010, equivalent to 11.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and about US$4,505 (€3,510) per capita. According to the World Health Organization, Germany's health care system was 77% government-funded and 23% privately funded as of 2004. In 2004 Germany ranked thirtieth in the world in life expectancy (78 years for men). It was tied for eighth place in the number of practicing physicians, at 3.3 per 1,000 persons. It also had very low infant mortality rate (4.7 per 1,000 live births). In 2001 total spending on health amounted to 10.8 percent of gross domestic product.

According to the Euro health consumer index, which placed it in seventh position in its 2015 survey, Germany has long had the most restriction-free and consumer-oriented healthcare system in Europe. Patients are allowed to seek almost any type of care they wish whenever they want it. In 2017, the governmental health system in Germany kept a record reserve of more than €18 billion which made it one of the healthiest healthcare systems in the world at the time.

Germany has the world's oldest national social health insurance system, with origins dating back to Otto von Bismarck's social legislation, which included the Health Insurance Bill of 1883, Accident Insurance Bill of 1884, and Old Age and Disability Insurance Bill of 1889. Bismarck stressed the importance of three key principles; solidarity, the government is responsible for ensuring access by those who need it, subsidiarity, policies are implemented with the smallest political and administrative influence, and corporatism, the government representative bodies in health care professions set out procedures they deem feasible. Mandatory health insurance originally applied only to low-income workers and certain government employees, but has gradually expanded to cover the great majority of the population.

Since 1976 the government has convened an annual commission, composed of representatives of business, labor, physicians, hospitals, and insurance and pharmaceutical industries. The commission takes into account government policies and makes recommendations to regional associations with respect to overall expenditure targets. In 1986 expenditure caps were implemented and were tied to the age of the local population as well as the overall wage increases. Although reimbursement of providers is on a fee-for-service basis the amount to be reimbursed for each service is determined retrospectively to ensure that spending targets are not exceeded. Capitated care, such as that provided by U.S. health maintenance organizations, has been considered as a cost-containment mechanism but would require consent of regional medical associations, and has not materialized.

Copayments were introduced in the 1980s in an attempt to prevent overutilization and control costs. The average length of hospital stay in Germany has decreased in recent years from 14 days to 9 days, still considerably longer than average stays in the U.S. (5 to 6 days). The difference is partly driven by the fact that hospital reimbursement is chiefly a function of the number of hospital days as opposed to procedures or the patient's diagnosis. Drug costs have increased substantially, rising nearly 60% from 1991 through 2005. Despite attempts to contain costs, overall health care expenditures rose to 10.7% of GDP in 2005, comparable to other western European nations, but substantially less than that spent in the U.S. (nearly 16% of GDP).

As of 2009, the system is decentralized with private practice physicians providing ambulatory care, and independent, mostly non-profit hospitals providing the majority of inpatient care. Approximately 92% of the population are covered by a 'Statutory Health Insurance' plan, which provides a standardized level of coverage through any one of approximately 1,100 public or private sickness funds. Standard insurance is funded by a combination of employee contributions, employer contributions and government subsidies on a scale determined by income level. Higher-income workers sometimes choose to pay a tax and opt-out of the standard plan, in favor of 'private' insurance. The latter's premiums are not linked to income level but instead to health status. Historically, the level of provider reimbursement for specific services is determined through negotiations between regional physicians' associations and sickness funds.


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