Germany's Government Health Insurance System (GKV) explained

Nearly all of Germany's inhabitants, about 70 million people, subscribe to the national health system (GKV). For residents with an annual gross salary of less than 54,900 Euros, or to be exact, 4,575 Euros per month from 2015 onwards, it is mandatory to become a GKV member.

Approximately 120 non-profit hospital trusts, or Krankenkassen in German, administer the national health insurance scheme, charging the same basic rate of 14.6% together with a potential average supplemental rate of 0.9% of a person's eligible gross salary up to a maximum of 4,125 Euros income per month (2015 data).

People earning more than this do not pay a higher insurance premium. Taking a maximum monthly premium of 747 Euros as the basis for an employee's contribution to the scheme, someone who earns at or above the allowed limit and is therefore a voluntary member, pays ca. 397 Euros per month, while their employer will contribute ca. 350 Euros to the scheme.

Generally speaking, the minimum period of GKV membership with a specific Krankenkasse is 18 months, after which members can transfer to a different government health fund provider by giving two months notice. Members can also switch if a supplemental premium is increased or demanded.

Benefits of GKV Membership

Medical benefits of membership include hospital care as a ward patient with the doctor on duty at a member's nearest hospital, as well as out-patient care with registered doctors, called Kassenärzte in German, and basic dental care. Private medical care or surgeons are not covered, nor are private hospital rooms, alternative or homeopathic treatments, dental implants or vision products for adults or receiving medical benefits outside the Eurozone.

Non-working dependants living at a member's German address are currently insured at no extra cost, but must register with the same national health fund provider to qualify.

Shopping for the best GKV Deal

Anyone looking to join the GKV scheme can register with any of the available Krankenkassen. These associations can vary considerably in size. Krankenkassen like AOK, DAK, TK and BEK for example have millions of members, while some have merely a few thousand members. Called BKKs, they are in essence the same type of association offering the same type of benefits, since all health insurance funds must adhere to government regulations on the basic care they cover.

However, premiums can vary due to new regulations; it is advantageous to look into the voluntary supplemental programs Krankenkassen offer. Members might, for example, enjoy a no-claims bonus, discounts of health travel plans or free checkups with some Krankenkassen but not with others.

Hot Tip: Although only a limited number of Krankenkassen offer an English language service due to a lack of English speaking staff, there are some and it is a good idea to ask about these, if you are planning to spend time working in Germany or relocate there permanently.

Mandatory Health Insurance

Working adults and their dependents must become members of the government's long-term nursing care scheme, which is called Pflegepflichtversicherung in German.

The scheme covers some of the cost for personal nursing needs, feeding and bathing of persons who become substantially disabled for example. A recent reform of nursing care has has meant that costs have risen, now costing either 2.25% or 2.6% of a person's annual gross salary, up to a maximum of 107 Euros per month for those without children. Employers contribute only a maximum of 48.47 Euros towards this cost.

It is possible to purchase private health insurance policies from any German or international company to boost coverage of government system benefits. Private medical care, private hospital rooms, alternative or homeopathy treatment or better dental coverage could be part of this private health insurance policy. The state health insurance plan does not cover emergency evacuation from places outside Germany either, so any private travel insurance you opt for should cover this to safeguard you and your family members.

Publically funded health insurance funds sometimes offer additional insurance policies from a specific provider, offering a group rebate, but such tied policies are not always in a member's best interest. A far greater range of benefits is available in the private health insurance sector. For more information visit the sector german health insurance sector or for general information the Welcome Center Germany.

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