Healthcare in Greece
Expats seeking healthcare in Greece are entitled to the same treatment as any other resident in the country. For decades, hospitals in Greece have been praised for their quality of care, ranking above countries like the UK and Germany. However, the healthcare system is notorious for corruption, overspending on supplies and mismanagement.
In light of the recent economic crisis, government spending on healthcare has significantly decreased in recent years. In an attempt to streamline the system and fight corruption, the Greek government has introduced universal social security numbers and electronic prescriptions, and has also channelled resources to Greece's larger hospitals.
Efforts to cut costs have resulted in people having to pay more for medication that their compulsory national health insurance no longer covers. Many Greeks also take out private health insurance, which appears to be more comprehensive and cost-effective than their public healthcare scheme.
Public healthcare in Greece
Unfortunately, the reputation of public healthcare in Greece has suffered in recent years, and many doctors have left the country. However, public hospitals in Greece are still generally adequate and there are still professionals who do their best to deliver quality care. The biggest downside is week-long waiting periods in order to receive care.
While some hospitals in more remote locations on islands may provide a lower standard of healthcare, the best public hospitals, usually concentrated in the major cities, offer care of a high standard. It is often the case that expats who require more sophisticated care than island hospitals can provide will be transported to a hospital in Athens or Thessaloniki.
Most medical staff in Greece will speak some level of English, though this may differ based on their position and the location of the hospital. A doctor in Thessaloniki is more likely to speak English than a nurse in Preveza, for instance.
Emergency care in Greece is free of charge regardless of one’s nationality. However, unless an expat is employed in the country, has a social security card (known as an AMKA) and pays for public health insurance, they will have to pay their own medical bills for most primary care visits.
Expats in the early stages of moving and who have an EU Health Card will also be provided with healthcare for a limited time. However, they will probably be expected to pay upfront and claim back from the health service in their home country.
Expats who already contribute to the Social Insurance Institute (IKA), and are referred to a public hospital by an IKA approved doctor, should remember to ask for their “ticket” which proves that they are entitled to benefits through the scheme. Expats who encounter difficulties with their social insurance should contact their nearest IKA office.
Private healthcare in Greece
Private healthcare in Greece is normally considered to be superior to the public alternative. Private medical facilities are generally less affected by the country’s economic situation and have newer equipment, but are not covered by IKA. Expats who would prefer to go to a private hospital in Greece would do well to have a private healthcare policy, since they will be responsible for the full cost of their treatment.
Moreover, doctors and nurses in private hospitals are more likely to speak English. Some Greek private hospitals even have affiliations with US hospitals or hospitals in other countries, and their staff will have had at least some form of overseas training.
Pharmacies in Greece
Pharmacies in Greece are normally marked by a green equal-armed cross, often against a white background. They are widely available, especially in larger cities and are generally a reliable first line of defence against illness. Many Greek pharmacists will speak English and are capable diagnosticians who may save expats a trip to the doctor.
Expats wanting to bring prescribed medication from their own country should bring them in their original containers, and ensure that they are clearly marked. It is also recommended to have a signed physician’s letter outlining their patient’s condition and the medication required for it, including generic names. Expats should be warned, that codeine is highly illegal in Greece and should refrain from bringing medicines containing it into the country, even with a prescription.
In cities such as Thessaloniki, medication is easily accessible although more specialised forms may only be available from hospitals. Expats who contribute to IKA generally receive a percentage off of the cost of prescription medication, and patients go to an IKA approved doctor, who provides them with a prescription that is then taken to a pharmacy. Expats who belong to OAEE, the social healthcare fund for self-employed workers, now receive electronic prescriptions, a system which is expected to be implemented across the board at some point.
Pharmacies are generally open between 8am and 1pm, and 5pm to 8.30pm.
Health insurance in Greece
As soon as expats start working, they will need to apply for national health insurance in Greece, which is administered by IKA. They will receive an IKA health booklet and will also be given an AMKA.
The AMKA is required for all social insurance schemes, such as OAEE, which covers self-employed workers such as small business owners and, fairly recently, taxi and truck drivers. It should be noted that all expats in the country on a working visa, who are looking for work or on pension in Greece, require an AMKA. Furthermore, social health insurance is a compulsory contribution made by employers and employees.
While some employers will try to skirt around their contributions, IKA takes this very seriously and, should this occur, the employee should contact their closest IKA office.
Medical care by IKA approved practitioners is generally free, although patients are required to pay a fee for all prescribed medicines. Unfortunately, cover is not as comprehensive as it used to be and many Greeks take out a private health insurance policy as gap cover. Furthermore, social healthcare, as with other bureaucratic procedures in Greece, is a fairly complicated issue for outsiders and it is suggested that expats research this very carefully.
Pre-travel vaccinations for Greece
It is suggested that expats who are going to Evrotas, a small, mostly agricultural area in Laconia to the south, take precautions against malaria. Those travelling to Greece between November and April should get an influenza vaccine. Some governments also suggest getting vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B, diphtheria and tetanus.
Emergency services in Greece
Public ambulances are widely available in larger cities, but access may be restricted on some islands and rural areas. In these cases, private ambulances, EKAV helicopters and taxis may be legitimate alternatives depending on the situation.
Ambulance service (EKAV): 166
General Emergency: 112