Italian Healthcare and the Tessera Sanitaria

Are you thinking of moving to Italy or planning a long-term stay? Understanding the healthcare system in Italy is essential for your well-being. Fortunately, Italy has a national health service that covers most medical services, including doctor visits, hospital stays, and prescription drugs. In this blog post, I’ll guide you through the Tessera Sanitaria, the national health card, and how to access medical services. Keep reading to learn more about Italian healthcare!

Healthcare in Italy: How does it work

Healthcare in Italy is provided through a national health service, the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), which is funded through residents’ taxes. You are eligible for it by paying into these taxes, or voluntarily paying to subscribe. The SSN covers most medical services, including doctor visits, hospital stays, and prescription drugs.

However – a common misconception is that the SSN renders all these services free. That is not exactly the case. Basic doctor visits and essential care are free, but other exams might have a small fee to pay. Consider it like a co-pay, though it often is very little – 10€ or less for certain blood tests, 30€ for certain ultrasounds.

In order to get any exams done, or visit a specialist, you will need to first get a ricetta, a prescription, from your medico di base – your general practitioner. Then with this you can reserve the service, every region does this a little differently: you may have an online portal like in Piedmont, you may have to call a regional call center, or you may have to head into your local ASL (azienda sanitaria locale) office.

Accessing Italian Healthcare

In order to access healthcare in Italy, you must have a valid health card, known as the Tessera Sanitaria. This card is issued to all residents of Italy and is used to access medical services. The Tessera Sanitaria is also required when purchasing prescription drugs, as it entitles you to a reduced rate.

To obtain a Tessera Sanitaria, you must be registered with the National Health Service. Registration is based on residency and is done at your local ASL office. You will need to provide proof of residency, such as a rental agreement or utility bill, as well as your passport or identity card.

In some cases – namely being a student, you will not have paid the taxes to adhere to the SSN, however, you can choose to voluntarily sign up and pay for a year’s worth of coverage.

Once you are registered with the SSN, you are entitled to visit your local doctor, known as a medico di base, for free. Your medico di base will act as your primary care physician and will refer you to specialists or hospitals if necessary.

In emergency situations, you can go directly to the nearest hospital emergency room, known as the pronto soccorso. However, non-emergency care should be obtained through your medico di base.

What if I haven’t yet signed up for the TS?

If you have not yet accessed the Italian healthcare visa the Tessera Sanitaria – don’t worry too much, you will still have access to healthcare. If you have an emergency you can still go directly to the pronto soccorso – the emergency room and be treated. Depending on the hospital and situation they may make you pay, but you can rest assured it will be nowhere near the prices you see in the US. Friends and clients who have gone without insurance were treated and never paid more than €100 for various treatments.

Also if you are pregnant – the local hospital will work to get you a Tessera Sanitaria immediately, or in some cases, in some regions, they will treat you without (Piedmont, namely).

In any case, it is a good idea to sign up for the Tessera Sanitaria, even voluntarily as it can be of great help if an emergency arises. However, you can of course always look into private healthcare as an alternative.

Private Healthcare in Italy

Private healthcare in Italy is easy to find. Every major city will have a few clinics that you can access through direct payment rather than with the Tessera Sanitaria. You’ll have to look up your closest clinic as every city has different ones. In Turin you can access: CDC, LARC, Ospedale Koelliker. In Milan and Bologna, you can access Centro Sant’Agostino.

Through private clinics, you can book appointments with general practitioners or specialists in any area: dermatology, gynecology, neurology, etc. Usually, you’ll be able to get an appointment that same week, if not the next. They are much faster at scheduling and have more availability.

Prices vary for these clinics, however, they usually list their set prices online so you can check, and even pay, ahead of time. For the most part, a specialist visit might cost anywhere between €60-€200. You can also schedule surgeries through private hospitals, but this might cost you a few thousand. Yet, from the perspective of an American, still at a totally reasonable price.

And Private Insurance?

Private insurance does exist, but it often isn’t used or found to be very helpful when it comes to Italian healthcare. If you have the TS you’ll be covered and really don’t have to worry about the private. In theory, employers often provide private insurance on top of public one, and you can also pay for a private one. But most that I have come across, reading the fine print don’t cover much. However, that is not to say they are all bad. I suggest you evaluate what you might need and research which private ones might suit you.

Ultimately if you are in standard good health, public insurance should be fine to cover you.

How is Italian healthcare, really?

Everyone will have a different opinion about Italian healthcare, so there is no correct answer. Some days you will get great doctors, other days, terrible ones. Some days you’ll go to a modern and welcoming hospital, most days you’ll go to ones with paint peeling, grumpy attendants, and broken chairs. Some days the doctors will jump on what’s wrong and get you all the right tests, other days they will tell you it is normal and not to worry.

There is no telling what you will get. It’s generally said that “Hospitals in the North are better than the South” but I always hesitate to follow that generalization, as I know there exist some bad ones in the North too.

Basically, it is up to you to evaluate what you are looking for in healthcare and see if your local doctor and hospital fit what you hope for.

From my years here in Italy – while I have had bad doctors, I can say that given the fact almost everything I need is covered, so I pay very little, the healthcare works for me and I am happy with it.

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