Healthcare in Italy
Understanding the fundamentals
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Italy Healthcare System
The national health service in Italy, Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), provides residents with free or low-cost healthcare that includes access to general practitioners (GPs), treatment at public hospitals, subsidised medicines, lab services, ambulance services and certain specialist care.
Although the SSN is a socialised system, regional governments are in charge of managing it on a provincial level, with the result that the standard of treatment isn't uniform throughout the country. For instance, public hospitals in Italy’s northern and central regions are known to offer higher standards of care than those in the south. As a result, expats may prefer to be treated in a major city such as Milan in emergency cases.
Private healthcare in Italy
Private healthcare in Italy boasts well-trained doctors and is on par with the finest in the world. There are several impressive specialist facilities in large urban centres, while university hospitals are also highly reputable.
Private healthcare allows expats to avoid the queues and complications of the public system. It also enables provisions for more comforts and personal choice when it comes to doctors and facilities. For these reasons, although public healthcare in Italy is free for both expat residents and Italians, most foreigners and many Italians still opt to utilise private healthcare if they can afford to.
Private procedures vary in cost, although the Ministry of Health sets a minimum charge for all operations in this sector, which means it can get awfully expensive and health insurance is a must. In many cases, employers are obligated to finance health insurance for their employees but, if not, expats should organise it themselves.
Health insurance in Italy
EU citizens can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access state healthcare during a short-term visit. UK citizens can make use of their Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which replaced the EHIC for UK citizens post-Brexit.
Non-EU expats will need to have private health insurance valid for their expected time of stay or formally register for the SSN. Expats who have their residence status finalised and have an Italian identity card (carta d’identità) are then able to apply for an Italian health insurance card (tessera sanitaria).
To get an Italian health insurance card an expat would have to go to their nearest local health authority (Azienda Sanità Locale) and apply for the card, which will require various documents. This usually includes the expat’s residence permit, tax number, official identification and proof of employment, among others. Expats wanting to claim benefits for their families will require a family status certificate (certificato di stato di famiglia), which includes personal details of relatives.
After registering, applicants must choose a family doctor and a paediatrician, if applicable. They are then issued with their Italian health insurance card, which must be presented to receive care under the SSN. These cards must be renewed every year.
If expats don't qualify for public healthcare under the SSN or EHIC, they must have private health insurance. Expats requiring chronic or specialist treatment should also consider private health insurance for peace of mind, choice of treatment centres, and comfort.
Pharmacies and medication in Italy
Most pharmacies in Italy are small, family-run establishments. However, they can generally fill most prescriptions.
Under the Italian healthcare system, medicines prescribed by a GP are provided free of charge or at subsidised rates. Over-the-counter medicines, on the other hand, must be paid for in full. It is advisable to ascertain the generic name of any long-term prescription drug, as brand names tend to vary from one country to another.
There are many pharmacies (farmacia) around Italy, including some 24-hour pharmacies, especially in the major cities.
Emergency services in Italy
In the event of a medical emergency in Italy the number to call is 118. However, expats may struggle to find an English-speaking operator, in which case they should make use of the general EU emergency number, 112.
Emergency services in Italy tend to be responsive and reliable. Expats should be aware that waiting times for ambulances may be longer in rural areas. It is also advisable that visitors and expats have the number of their home country’s embassy or consulate on hand in case of emergency.