Prague Healthcare Guide

An English-speaker's guide to getting cover and care in the Czech capital

Illness or injury is bad enough without language fumbles and administrative hurdles to add to the pain. The prospect of confronting the infamous Czech bureaucracy might induce nausea in anyone, regardless of nationality, but with some preliminary research and, yes, a few hassles, getting treated in Prague need not make you sick(er). An English-speaker looking to sort out his or her healthcare situation faces three main choices: how to get insurance, how to pay for health care and how to find Anglophone doctors. Cover me If you’re lucky enough to have insurance through your employer, it's simple. You'll likely be handed an insurance card and a list of doctors. And if you're an EU citizen, you should receive a European Health Insurance Card from your country of citizenship that will cover some care in the Czech Republic. But if you're, say, a freelance English teacher from Australia or a journalist from the States, there are two ways to get insurance. You can buy Czech insurance for foreigners, which involves much to-ing and fro-ing, or you can buy international insurance. For Czech insurance, head to the offices of Všeobecna Zdravotní Pojištovna, or VZP. (There are English-speaking staffers on hand, although you might have to ask around.) You'll get a table of premiums and a form to take to one of two local hospitals for a physical, which will cost you 1,400 CZK (some of which the insurer will reimburse). When the results of your physical are ready - it should take a week or so - retrieve them from the hospital and deliver them to VZP. You'll have to go to VZP once more to pay for six months' worth of insurance, which you cannot cancel. Your coverage is supposed to take effect on the first of the following month, but practically speaking you should allow a few weeks for processing. Take care to get the preliminaries done early in the month before you want insurance; if you turn in your payment on, say, January 20th, you probably won't be insured until March 1st. Premiums for foreigners range widely. An 18- to 50-year-old man will pay from 1,350 CZK to 2,360 CZK per month for a standard policy, a woman 1,550 CZK to 2,710 CZK. If you opt for this coverage, you won't pay for doctor's visits and you'll be partially reimbursed for prescriptions. You can get additional coverage for dental or maternity care. Go your own way But expats often have itchy feet. If you're not sure you'll still be in town in six months, sign up for VZP's short-term coverage, which is less comprehensive. It costs 70 CZK per day and doesn't require a physical. Or you might consider international health insurance, which you can take with you when you leave. Bupa International offers this kind of coverage, and you can find loads more options on the Internet. Annual premiums can range from a few hundred US dollars to a couple of thousand, depending on the provider and your age, gender, benefits level and deductible. International insurers typically offer a help center that finds English-speaking doctors for you around the globe, and some even have an online database of providers. And unlike with VZP, you can cancel most international insurance policies at any time for a pro-rated refund. There are dozens of companies to choose from, so when you're shopping, ask a few questions:

    • How long has the insurer been around? • Can they tell you, right away, what doctors and hospitals here accept their coverage? • Will you have to pay for medical services up-front and wait for reimbursement? • Does the company have representatives in Prague? Or, when it comes time to make a claim, will you have to make a series of international phone calls?

If you're comfortable gambling that you won't get hit by a tram or an attack of appendicitis, you could choose to pay as you go. Seeing a doctor in the Czech Republic is relatively cheap. Expect to pay 500 CZK to 700 CZK for a routine visit, maybe twice that to see a specialist or get a lab test. If you're concerned about that rogue tram or inflamed appendix but can't quite swallow hefty premiums, a midprice alternative is taking out catastrophic-care insurance and paying for routine care. Many international insurers offer this kind of coverage. Doctor who? Once you've chosen insurance or the self-pay route, how to find a doctor? If you have VZP coverage, the process is straightforward: Consult the list of participating physicians (insist, by the way, that they give you a complete list - we're told they sometimes hand out partial lists to save paper) and start calling to see who speaks English. Alternatively, take your VZP card and passport to the foreigners' reception area at Motol or Na Homolce hospital. (Both are in the nether regions of Prague 5, on the 167 bus line.) They'll help you make an appointment and even provide someone to translate, if you need it. If you have any other kind of insurance, or if you don't have insurance, check the English-language index in the back of the yellow pages. Find the kind of doctor you need in the most convenient locations and start calling to find an English-speaker. This approach might sound daunting, but it's never failed me. (Time-management note: Some Czech doctors' offices make appointments, but many are still strictly first-come, first-served. Show up early and expect to wait.) Of course, all the non-Czech speakers in Prague add up to a lucrative market for some entrepreneurial doctors. Canadian Medical Care and Unicare Medical Center charge far more than standard Czech practitioners - most exams cost from 1,500 CZK to 2,500 CZK — but they accept insurance and offer the peace of mind that comes with easy communication and after-hours emergency numbers. Na zdraví! • For a comprehensive listing of healthcare options see the PTV Prague Directory Health & Wellness section

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