Greater comfort and shorter waiting times in Italy's private hospitals
The state health system in Italy also includes the state hospitals. These hospitals are funded primarily by taxes, so treatment is free for patients. For scheduled treatment, a referral from the patient’s GP is required; in acute situations, the patient can go to A&E (Pronto Soccorso) without a referral. Here, patients' conditions are categorised according to their urgency and treated accordingly.
The responsibility for hospitals lies with the individual Italian regions. In terms of equipment and quality of treatment, the typical Italian north-south divide is noticeable here. Many southern Italian patients try to find a hospital place in northern Italy for more complex treatments – however, the waiting lists can be very long.
Visits to A&E can also involve long waits. Italians often prefer to go to A&E with relatively minor conditions rather than waiting for months for a specialist appointment – and therefore the A&E waiting areas tend to fill up – so all those involved have to be prepared to be patient.
Anyone who is dissatisfied with the state hospitals has the option of going to a private clinic or hospital. Here, patients can expect a higher level of comfort and shorter waiting times, but medically, the state institutions can certainly keep up.
Getting hospital treatment in Italy if you don’t have health insurance
Some health insurance policies may allow travellers to use the state health system in Italy. This would include going to A&E as well as inpatient treatment in an Italian state hospital. In such cases, the bill would be settled directly between the hospital and the insurance provider. The prerequisite for free medical care in Italy is usually that hospital treatment is urgently needed. Anyone who goes to A&E with a trivial injury or illness must expect to have to pay all or part of the bill themselves.
Of course, Italian private hospitals are also open to foreign patients, but the costs are not usually covered by the insurers. However, it is worth contacting your health insurance provider before travelling, so you can fully understand your options under your particular policy.
Getting hospital treatment in Italy if you have health insurance
If, before travelling, you have taken out a travel insurance policy that includes health insurance, you can generally expect to be reimbursed for the cost of treatment in a private hospital. However, this only applies to acute health problems. Pre-existing medical conditions are not normally covered under the terms and conditions of the insurance.
Some insurers also exclude other benefits in their policies. Therefore, it is worth checking the insurance conditions carefully before signing the agreement. Depending on the precise wording of such agreements, international health insurance will also cover the cost of medical repatriation from Italy – either only in ‘medically necessary’ cases or also in ‘medically reasonable’ cases.