The uninsured American in Germany

Having health insurance in Germany is compulsory for residents. The country has a public health plan, but there are also private insurance options. There are rules stipulating how much you have to pay for the public insurance, and some select doctors only take privately insured patients.

Under Chris’s contract, we are ineligible for Germany’s public health plan. Friends of mine who have it seem to be very pleased with the care they get for the cost. We had to find our own insurance when we arrived.

Because of  pre-existing health conditions, no company would offer us a plan. I felt like an uninsured person would in the U.S. not knowing how we would qualify for health insurance.

Chris worked with financial advisors through his work, but no one could find a company to cover us. It was getting so serious, that I was even looking into extremely expensive COBRA options from the U.S.

During this stressful time, we were dealing with other issues of moving abroad, such as setting up a bank account. The man helping us at the bank offered us renters’ insurance, which we needed, then he happened to say, “Did you find health insurance yet?”

“No,” we said in hopeful unison. He told us that the bank offers a policy to people like us (on fixed-term positions), and they do not look at pre-existing conditions. It was an amazing stroke of luck that we found out about this, since we were getting very desperate. We found out you had to sign the contract within 2 weeks of arrival, and we had made it just in time.

The plan we ended up getting is pretty good. It covers all doctors’ visits and prescriptions in Germany and abroad. This is a nice option so I can see my U.S. doctors when I’m back in the U.S. if I need to.

A couple of my British girlfriends have come to Germany under contracts similar to Chris’s. They were able to find some companies that would cover them as long as they didn’t get pregnant and actually had to sign something saying they wouldn’t get pregnant. They both decided if they unintentionally got pregnant, they would move back to the U.K. and have their pregnancy charges covered under Britain’s National Health Insurance. My plan is not this restrictive, though it makes me see how lucky my friends are to have the option of returning to their home country with universal coverage, if needed.

We’ll pay for everything except…

It is a horrible feeling to get rejected from insurance companies and to not know how you will pay your medical bills. I only went through it for a few weeks, so I feel for people who have to deal with it in their day-to-day life.

Relieved to finally be insured, my celebration ended abruptly when I realized I would now have to find English-speaking doctors and navigate through a new medical culture.

See how well I’ve fared at German doctors’ offices so far:


10 responses to “The uninsured American in Germany

  1. Wow, I wouldn’t have thought our insurance systems is soo difficult for foreigners. I, myself, have a student health insurance with a monthly fee. I know there are problems when you have private insurance and want to get into the public sector. Anyways,.. I am glad got insurance.

    As for doctors, as long as your doctor is relativly young (30’s/ 40’s something), they should able to speak English 😉 At least that’s my experience. 🙂

  2. First, thanks for visiting our blog today! Having lived in four different countries the last fifteen years, navigating the medical system is always the most intriguing/frustrating. The pinnacle of your integration, in a way. To be honest, I found the US incomprehensible (if you’re used to social healthcare, the private system is insane), the only advantage is that it’s all in english (unlike where I am living now). I think its great your documenting your lives abroad- there is a window where everything is its most intriguing, and while you may always love that castle, like all good loves it has a honeymoon period and then becomes like an old pair of socks! Hope we’ll see you again at Mother Sugar- i’m hoping to get a few more ‘life abroad’ stories up myself.

    • Thanks for your comment! Yes, the U.S. system is also very tricky even when you have a job that provides you with insurance. I guess this is all part of the adventure, but it would be nice to never worry about health care again. Thanks for reading!

  3. I used to live in Heidelberg last spring and summer for an internship at Heidelberger Druckmaschinen (the large glass building with the horse statue outside the train station). I really miss Germany and I love reading your blog!

  4. Pingback: Tara ventures into the German doctor’s office | The Traveling Times·

  5. Pingback: Tara survives her German ophthalmologist appointment | The Traveling Times·

  6. Thanks for all the comments. We were fortunate in that my husband was in the German healthcare system 20 years ago, so coming back was shall we say “not easy” but no real problem with insurance and very good coverage much less then the US. Thanks Tara for your info!

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