Healthcare in Italy



Carrying the same passion for all the good things in life, Italians are intensely fixated with excellent health care.

Italy ranks No. 2 on the World Health Organization's list of top countries for quality health care, exhausting about 9.0 percent of its GDP solely for this. The country's cost effective, yet above par national health plan (servizio sanitario nazionale) provides hospital and medical benefits to its own citizens and European nationals. 

Seen as a fundamental right, health is a major concern in Italy - regarded as a public interest of the state - and protected with the help of the SSN (Servicio Sanitaris Nazionale). In 1978, Italy's health care system was established to provide universal health care, wherein patients are covered for tests, medications, surgeries during hospitalization, family doctor visits and medical assistance that is provided by pediatricians and other specialists.

Furthermore, the health system provides free medicines, outpatient treatments and dental treatments.

Although hospitals get crowded sometimes, you are in the safe hands of Italian doctors, who are exceptionally well trained. Private hospitals are also good, better than US or other European hospitals. But, there are still substandard hospitals in Italy, mostly found in southern Italy.

EU citizens visiting Italy can take advantage of the reciprocal health care agreements. Three weeks before your arrival in Italy, you should apply for form E111, known as the certificate of entitlement to treatment. You should provide documents from your home country to validate that you have been making contributions for coverage with your local health care system.

Non-EU nationals must acquire private insurance coverage. Eight days after arrival, you need to pay a visit to the local police station, armed with a valid health policy to show. 

If you're staying in Italy for work, the employer is obliged to pay for health insurance. Expats need to go to the nearest local health authority, the Azienda SanitELocale (ASL), and then register with a doctor to obtain a health card; a health number will be issued as well. On your next visit to the doctor, just present the health card. The family doctor then can issue prescriptions, which you must take to a pharmacy.

Pharmacies are mostly family-run in Italy and are regulated by law. Pharmacies follow a "rota" system designed to ensure that there are a significant number of pharmacies open during the evening, on Sundays and public holidays. If a pharmacy is already closed, it must display a notice that informs customers of the opening hours, an emergency telephone number, and where to go for emergency services.

Other citizens and expats who are legally resident in Italy can apply to be part of the health plan, so long as eligibility requirements are met (nationality and work permit). However, most opt to get private health insurance coverage, so they can freely choose a doctor or specialist and so that treatment can be given in private hospitals. This also cuts down the waiting times to get an appointment with a medical specialist.

Transient travelers, visitors, or individuals not enrolled under the state plan are expected to pay full hospital charges and then claim a reimbursement from their own insurance provider.

In cases of an emergency, head to the nearest hospital's emergency rooms (pronto soccorso), open 24 hours a day.

For an ambulance, call 118 (toll free). For police assistance dial 113 (Italy's own version of 911). 

It is common for expatriates to secure a private medical insurance when moving to Italy or while staying in Europe. Compare a large selection of expat health insurance in Italy or ask a free advice from a health insurance specialist who will help you compare the market.


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