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Wednesday 24th July 2019

How does Austrian healthcare work?

24th October 2007

The Austrian healthcare system is ranked ninth in the world by the World Health Organisation. Here we offer a breakdown of how the system works, and track its historical development and reforms.


Demographics and legal issues

Austria joined the European Union in 1995. Statistics show that male life expectancy in 2004 was 76.4 years and 82.1 years for women.

The country faces the challenge of an elderly population - by 2030 there will be 2.7 million inhabitants over the age of 60. This problem will be compounded by the fact that there will be a decrease in the population between the ages of 15 to 59, due to a low birth rate.

Although the Federal Ministry of Health, Family and Youth has the legal responsibility of ensuring health provision for Austria's population, other bodies also share this responsibility. These include federal-level departments and social security institutions.


The history of social insurance

Towards the end of the 19th century, a new scheme which provided workers with industrial accident and health insurance was brought in. This scheme laid the foundations for the system in place today.

Workers were required to pay two-thirds of the cost of the scheme, while employers were responsible for the remaining third. This compulsory insurance gave workers free medical treatment, whilst work accident insurance covered ongoing sickness and survivors' benefit payments.

The social and health insurance scheme was set up and run by individual organisations and did not receive government payouts. Many different schemes were set up - for example for white-collar employees - and by 1918 there were over 600 health insurance schemes in Austria.

At present there are in existence 17 health boards and seven insurance institutions (regulated by the Main Association of Austrian Social Security Institutions).

An insured person's income is used to determine their insurance contribution up to "an annually determined top threshold" - in 2005 this was EUR 3,630 per month for employed workers and EUR 4,235 for freelancers and farmers.


In 1996, the government and provinces came to an agreement about how to proceed with the reform of the healthcare system. This was finalised in two agreements, staged from 1997-2000 and 2001-2004.

The Health Care Reform Act of 2005 had a definite aim - to "ensure the financing of health care over the long term through cost control and improvements in efficiency."




Outpatient medical care

According to 2004 statistics, 18,025 GPs and specialists ensured the outpatient care of the country's population. There were 6,221 GPs who provided primary medical care. Most doctors working in private practice have a contract with at least one social insurance company.

The "E-card" - established in 2005 - is used by doctors and oupatient clinics in order to make charges for the services they provide to the health boards. It contains essential patient information and also acts as an European insurance card.


Austria contains many small hospitals - 2004 statistics showed that 61.4% of hospitals had less than 200 beds. Only nine hospitals had more than 1,000 beds - providing 19.3 of all the beds available in the country. 70.3% of beds were provided by 133 public hospitals.


As part of Austria's reform of its healthcare services, the implementation and use of electronic prescriptions and healthcare files was decided to be important. The introduction of electronic prescriptions and data is still in its initial stage.

Planning ahead

Two plans, introduced since 1997, target hospital services and "service provision". The hospital services plan - known as the ÖKAP/GGP - is intended to carry on the provision of high-quality services, adapt to meet future needs and "increase economic efficiency". The second plan - the ÖSG - calculates the number of medical services needed to look after the population "on the basis of comprehensive model and prognosis calculations."

Current and future public health are a main focus of Austria's healthcare system. Since 1974, people in Austria can take advantage of one free medical check-up per year. There is also a comprehensive vaccination programme.

In conclusion

Austria's high quality of healthcare has ensured that public satisfaction with the service has been "lasting and comparatively high".

Austrian health policy is directed by a "lasting consensus which transcends party politics".


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