For anybody who has plans of migrating in Italy, it is important to know the health care system of this Southern European country. Known to provide very low cost health care services, Italy is home to very good standards of medical assistance. In fact, Italy spent about 9.0% of their GDP for health care. However, there are still some concerns about health care in Italy that needs to be thoroughly discussed.

Italy, officially called the Italian Republic, is situated on the Italian Peninsula in Southern Europe, as well as on the islands of Sardinia, Sicily, and the Mediterranean Sea. On the northern Alpine boundary of Italy are Slovenia, Austria, France and Switzerland. The independent states of San Marino and Vatican are enclaves in the Italian Peninsula, and the Italian enclave in Switzerland is Campione d’Italia.

Health Systems of Italy

Despite reputations and considerable prejudices even on most Italians, Italy is actually a country to expect for affordable health care with the best standards of medical assistance. Italian doctors are well trained and very passionate about their profession, and their private hospitals are comparable with any country. However, there are some state hospitals in Italy that are very patchy, providing comfort way below what most northern Europeans and Americans expect. These hospitals are normally found in southern Italy. To stay away with this, expatriates and Italians alike prefer to consider a private health insurance to generally cover the expensive costs of hospitalizations and surgeries just to have the comfort needed and to avoid waiting on long lists that are normally common on most state systems.

The National Health System of Italy

The national health system of Italy, called the Servizio Sanitario Nazioanale, is the branch that provides inexpensive health care to all the European citizens.  This system was instituted in 1978 to provide universal healthcare for its citizens. Covered are in-patient treatments that include tests, medications, as well as surgeries during hospitalization, family doctor visits, medical assistance that are provided by pediatricians, and other specialists. The health system also shoulders of drugs, medicines, out-patient treatments, as well as dental treatments. Regardless of where one comes from, it is imperative that he/she should have a health insurance form the moment he/she arrives in Italy. Without it, issuance of a permesso di soggiorno is not possible.

As shared in  Italy Expat Forum last August 1, 2009:

Having an EU passport is no sure entrance into the Italian health care system. Normally, you need to have a document from your home country showing that you have been covered by that health care system for a period of time (i.e. have been making contributions toward the social insurances).

Getting the Right Health Insurance in Italy

If you are employed in Italy, your employer is obliged to pay for you health insurance. You can pay a visit to the nearest health local authorities, the Azienda Sanit ‘E Locale or the ASL, and then registered with your doctor. Once you are already registered, a health card and a health number will then be issued. This will serve as your ticket to free visits to your doctor. Your doctor will then issue you with the proper prescriptions, along with referrals to specialists.

On the other hand, if you are a European citizen that is paying a visit to Italy, take advantage of the reciprocal health agreements. Before you arrive, you are required to apply for a form E111, or the certificate of entitlement to treatment, at least three weeks prior to traveling. But if you are visiting Italy and not a European citizen, you are required to have a 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 in Italy

Once you are already in Italy and in need of prescription medicines and other drugs, your respective family doctor will issue you a prescription that you can present to the pharmacy. Most pharmacies in Italy are just small family-run establishments and they only deal with medically related items. However, if you have state health coverage, you qualify for those subsidized charges that reduce the cost of the medicines. The most common prescriptions are pills (pillole), injections (inienioni), suppositories (supposta) or powders (polveri). The medications are grouped according to a list where ticketed discounts are provided, so long as you are registered with the social security system. Otherwise, you are required to pay in full. If you are maintaining a prescriptive drug regularly, ask your home country doctors for your medicines’ generic names since brands normally vary from one country to another.

Hospitals in Italy

Italian state hospitals, called ospedali, can sometimes be considered as very depressing places because of poor nursing back-ups, although some basic hospital accommodations can still be relied upon. There is a clear difference between private and public hospital facilities, though the expertise is still of the same quality. If there is a need for you to be hospitalized, obtain a doctor’s referral from your medical practitioner and there are possibilities that your hospital charges are free if you qualify for the state health coverage. Italian state hospital rooms normally have three to six beds but you can still avail for single rooms only if you pay for the daily supplements. Although single and private rooms, these rooms are not equipped with a television set and bedside telephones. However, there are a few hospitals that provide specialized treatments. Additionally, under the National Health, you can actually request to be treated in hospitals in near cities.

Private or State Coverage in Italy?

Italians and foreigners in Italy prefer to take private health insurance coverage over and above those basic state covers. With a private insurance, you can freely choose your own doctor and specialist and treated at private hospitals, thus avoiding for those long queues just to get an appointment for medical specialists. Private hospitals in Italy have the best accommodations, comparable to those five-star hotels. Although with the comfort and the quality of service from private hospitals, the medical care is very similar to those in public hospitals.

However, you should be aware that private hospital treatments in Italy are very expensive. Before any treatment, see to it that you check whether your chosen insurance company covers your treatment.

In order to find the best care under your plan, it was recommended in the Italy Expat Forum last September 4, 2008:

However, I contact my insurance company (BC/BS) and they said that generally they would pay the hospital directly for any care that was received as inpatient....but anything that was outpatient, dental, office visit...I would have to pay out of pocket and then submit the global healthcare claim...They did say that they had some providers in Italy.....My insurance company had an entire department devoted to global claims...and they gave me the phone number to call when and if I needed it while I'm there for the year......I was told that there is an American Hospital just outside of Rome...if that helps.....

The best bet for you when you plan to take up residence in the Italian Republic is to register with the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale.

Other Italian Health Services

Through referrals from medical practitioner, medical auxiliary services from nurses, chiropodists, or physiotherapists can be available, depending on where you are living. There are some locations that require payments for nurses doing home visits. Additionally, free counseling for relationship and family problems are also available through networks of different local health centers wherein appointments can be done without requiring a doctor’s referral.

If you have plans to visit or settle down in this Southern European country, make it a point that you are aware of the basic things about the health care systems of Italy. Read them from the Internet or seek the advice from professionals of health care. That way, your stay in Italy will be a hassle-free and worry-free one.