Healthcare in the Czech Republic

By law, Czech residents must have health insurance. Ryan Scott looks at what's available and what to do if you don't

No matter what you tell yourself, at some point in your life you'll have to visit the doctor.

And if you're in a foreign country and the main language isn't your own, this can be a little bit more involved than picking up the phone or joining a busy waiting room.

The Czech healthcare system is a mixed system with both public and private health insurance available.

The main provider of public health insurance in the Czech Republic is Všeobecná zdravotní pojišťovna (VZP).

Under Czech law, all citizens and residents must have some type of health insurance. Each doctor is contracted to one or a number of these health insurance providers.

If you aren't a resident but are legally employed here, with a labor permit, your employer should organize your health insurance for you. Any employer who says otherwise doesn't know the law or is willfully deceiving you.

If you don't meet these categories, you have the following options:

People who are here for a short stay should organize short-term contractual health insurance, which can be signed up for by foreigners visiting the country for a period up to 365 days. It covers necessary and urgent treatment for accidents or illness.

Long-term contractual health insurance is available for non-permanent residents, including students and the self-employed.

One common complaint is that after doing the right thing and getting insurance, foreigners can't find a doctor who will accept their type of insurance.

As we don't plan on being sick or picking up injuries, we don't think of these details when we, or loved ones, need medical attention.

To prepare yourself if this problem arises, I would suggest going to your insurance company's website and looking for contracted doctors (smluvní lékaři) in your area.

At the moment, searching for contracted doctors on the VZP website is only possible in Czech.

Here's a brief guide how to use it.

On the VZP homepage click on "klienti" ("clients") at the top left. This will take you to a page with a list in red on the left. "Smluvní lékaři" ("contracted doctors") is the ninth option. Click on this and a short text entitled "Vyhledávání smluvních zdravotnických zařízení" will drop down. Click on this.

You should have a white-and-gray box in front of you. Choose "hl. M. Praha" ("City of Prague"), for example, in the box which says "Kraj/Město" ("Region/City") and your locality in the "Okres/městská část’" ("District/City District") box.

To find a GP choose "ambulantní zařízení" in the "kategorie" box and "Samostatná ordinace PL a PLDD" in the adjacent "Typ subjektu" box. In the final alphabetical list select "praktický lékař pro dospělé".

Be warned: the fact that a doctor is listed here does not guarantee that he or she will accept you.

According to the official Czech Republic website's The funding of health care article, a doctor may turn you away if they have too many patients. Because there is an apparent shortage of doctors in the country this is a problem for everyone.

It's important to know that a doctor is not permitted to turn you away in the case of severe injury or illness. They may, however, transfer you to another doctor -- or, if you aren't registered, no doctor -- after treatment.

At the moment the best the law seems to provide in this area is the possibility to have this rejection in writing, so that the case can be followed up by the healthcare department.

In Prague's expat community you occasionally hear stories about unscrupulous doctors taking advantage of foreigners.

In my five years in the Czech Republic, I've never experienced this, but since it's a possibility, here are a few tips to help you avoid being duped.

Agree on the treatment beforehand, including the price, and get this in writing. You have a legal right to this.

• Check with your insurance company whether that treatment is covered

• And of course do not hand over any money until you know what you are paying for

Even if you have health insurance you aren't totally exempt from fees. Since January 1st, 2008 a flat fee of 30 CZK was introduced for all visits to the doctor or for prescriptions.

Hospitalization (lůžkové péči) cost 60 CZK per day, providing you are admitted to a hospital bed.

The emergency room costs 90 CZK per day.

The upper limit for healthcare fees is 5,000 CZK, above which you won't be expected to pay.

Remember these fee is for insured patients and that you pay them on top of your insurance.

If you don't have health insurance, it's possible to pay for medical treatment in Prague.

The Fakultní nemocnice v Motole (FN Motol) in Prague 5 has a foreigners department that accepts direct payment for treatment, with an English-language website.

FN Motol is located in Prague 5. The Czech section of the website includes the public transport routes which service the hospital.

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