Greece - don’t leave healthcare to the Gods

With Greece a member of the European Community, many moving there to work or retire might think that their medical expenses would be covered under the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). However, an EHIC is not intended to replace private medical insurance as the protection it offers is temporary and the range of treatments covered is limited.

  • The EHIC will cover any medical treatment that becomes necessary during a trip, for example because of either illness or an accident
  • The card gives access to reduced cost or free medical treatment from state healthcare providers
  • It includes treatment of a chronic or pre-existing medical condition that becomes necessary during your visit
  • It includes routine maternity care (not only because of illness or accident), as long as you are not going abroad to give birth. However, where the birth happens unexpectedly, the card will cover the cost of all medical treatment for mother and baby that is linked to the birth
  • The card also covers routine medical care for people with pre-existing conditions that need monitoring.  Doctors and dentists are generally accessed via IKA-ETAM, Greece's largest social insurance fund.

IKA is a public insurance company that oversees Greece’s social security and at present, IKA covers the healthcare benefits of more than 5.5 million workers and employees, and pension benefits for approximately 8.3 million retirees. For those who take up residence in Greece and are contributing to Greek social security, you and your family will be entitled to subsidised or, in some cases free medical and dental treatment. If you have to use a private non IKA-ETAM doctor or dentist, you may find that you have to pay all costs initially and then reclaim those that are covered by your insurance.

You can make an appointment for any doctor or specialist by phoning 184, the national appointments phone line.  Remember, each country’s health system is different and all the things you usually expect to be free may not be. This may mean you have to submit a patient contribution to the cost of your care. If you do have to pay for care, remember to keep all of your receipts. Medicines prescribed by Greek doctors have a 25% patient charge, and whilst this is non – refundable in Greece, you can seek reimbursement via private medical insurance.

Ambulances are usually free, but again, you may be asked to pay a small contribution. Pensioners who intend to take up residence in Greece and who are entitled to free medical treatment in other EU countries also enjoy a similar entitlement in Greece. They should produce form E121 (which is issued by their local Department of Health Office) at the local IKA office. As a well-developed European country, there are few diseases which present significant risks, although some travel advisors recommend ensuring new residents have an up to date Hepatitis B vaccination, especially if they are at a high risk of having to have routine medical treatment. In addition, for specialty wildlife workers who may come into contact with bats, a rabies vaccination is recommended.

The Greek healthcare has a mixed reputation – domestically, many are critical of it, but despite this, it was rated by the world health organisation as one of the best in the world, with healthcare costs among the lowest of the European Union member countries. However, there are inevitable variations and treatment in the cities is likely to be far more comprehensive that that available rurally or on some of the outlying islands. Currently, there are moves from the government to upgrade the healthcare system, having obtained funding assistance from the European Union. Such improvements include the building of new facilities, developing mobile medical units, improving accident and emergency facilities and the installation of high-tech medical equipment. Pharmacies Greek Pharmacists are highly trained and can provide advice for the treatment of common illnesses. Most drugs in Greece are available over the counter without a prescription, including antibiotics.

Prescriptions issued by IKA doctors are charged between 10% and 25% of the cost so if you qualify for IKA it is worth going to the doctor first for a prescription. There is always at least one 'duty' pharmacy open out-of-hours, around the clock. Each pharmacy displays a list of the duty pharmacies for that day. Many residents choose to take out private medical insurance to act as top up cover and also to protect themselves in the event of long waiting lists for treatment which can be very long for non-urgent cases. Hospital costs too can be costly, so holding private medical insurance is often a good idea. Even those covered by IKA or another National Insurance may wish to take out private health insurance for better treatment, as the standards of hospital care in particular may not be what you would expect at home. There are many private clinics in the main towns and on the islands which have all the latest equipment, good doctors and nursing care, plus private rooms with TV and phone.

Commenting on the need for private medical insurance, Debbie Purser, CEO of April International said, “Many UK nationals make the mistake of thinking that because Greece is an EU country, they will not need to take out additional private cover. However, limits to both the scope of EHIC and to the quality and cover of State care for those paying into the system mean that significant numbers of local national Greeks and expatriates regularly buy their own private medical top up insurance. “