The Swiss like to play it safe, and they tend to be well insured. Please note that some kinds of insurance are mandatory in Switzerland while others are optional. The following provides an overview over what is generally recommended.
All people living in Switzerland must take out a health insurance policy with a recognized Swiss health insurance company. Exemptions are only possible in exceptional cases and must be applied for. You must obtain Swiss insurance privately within three months of arriving in Switzerland. Insurance is effective retrospectively and you will have to pay for the first three months in retrospect. You are free to choose any recognized Swiss insurance company. Since there are many different models, it is advisable to contact several companies for a price quote or to compare different offers online (for instance by using the services of priminfo or comparis).
The very informative brochure "Your questions, our answers" by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health answers questions that may arise with regard to Swiss health insurance. The brochure can be downloaded here:
How Does the Swiss Health Insurance System Work?
There are two kinds of insurance:
1. Compulsory insurance: This insurance covers basic medical treatments in case of illness, accident, or pregnancy. All insurers offer the same benefits and are required by law to accept your application for coverage, regardless of your age or history of health. There are numerous insurance models that vary considerably with regard to premiums and it is advisable to compare different offers before taking out an insurance policy.
2. Supplementary insurance: This kind of insurance is voluntary and covers additional medical treatments according to your preferences (for instance dental insurance or alternative medicine). In order to be able to sign up for supplementary insurance, you are required to answer a health questionnaire. The insurer will then assess whether to accept you or not. Both offered treatments and premiums vary from one insurance company to another.
Exemptions from the Insurance Obligation (Masters's Students and Doctoral Candidates)
Under certain circumstaces, for instance if you are covered by equivalent private health insurance in your home country, Master's students and doctoral candidates may be exempt from taking out health insurance in Switzerland. You can apply directly to the cantonal Department of Health by filling out the application form and form A (signed and stamped by your insurance company). You'll also need to enclose a copy or scan of both sides of your insurance card.
Despite having an insurance policy, you will still have to pay a certain portion of any health treatment. Your share of the cost is made up by the deductible (the “Franchise”) and the retention fee.
After taking out an insurance policy, you are required to pay monthly premiums. The amount of your insurance premium depends on the canton, the insurance company, and the insurance model selected. It is possible to reduce the insurance premiums by, for example, restricting your choice of doctor or by increasing your deductible.
The deductible is a specific amount you have to pay towards your health costs each year. Only after your medical expenses have reached this amount will the insurance start to pay. The minimum deductible is CHF 300 for adults. If you’d like to reduce your premiums, you can increase your deductible up to CHF 2,500. Please note that this means you will be liable to cover medical costs up to the specified amount.
The retention fee refers to the 10 percent of any treatment costs you have to pay, even after you’ve exceeded your deductible. This retention fee amounts to a maximum of CHF 700 per year for adults.
Many insurance companies offer a range of insurance options that affect the benefits as well as the costs. Some of the more common models include always contacting your general practitioner first, who will then refer you to a specialist if needed. Further options include first calling the insurance company’s helpline before visiting a practitioner or visiting their health center. In any case it may be worthwhile considering alternative options, as they usually imply premium reductions.
The benefits of the compulsory basic health insurance are specified on the website of the Federal Office of Public Health. You'll also find more information on the benefits of supplementary insurance. The latter however differ from company to company.
Seeking Medical Treatment
If you need to visit a doctor, first make sure it is someone accepted by your insurance company. Make an appointment by phone with the doctor's office (this is also the time to raise any issues regarding your doctor's language skills). If it's urgent, many doctors will be able to see you the same day or the day after. Bring your insurance card (and other necessary medical information) with you if it's your first visit to this particular doctor.
If you've taken out an alternative insurance model, you may need to first call a medical helpline or visit a health center. In this case you should have been made aware of the correct procedure – and you must adhere to it. Otherwise you run the risk of not being reimbursed.
How to Reclaim Costs
After your visit, the doctor's office will send you a bill. Usually this consists of an invoice and a copy with information on the treatment and its costs called "Rückforderungsbeleg" (reclaim proof). You should pay the bill to the doctor and send the "Rückforderungsbeleg" or a scan of it to you insurance company, which will then reimburse you. As mentioned above, the insurer will not reimburse you fully: You are required to pay a retention fee (usually 10 per cent of the total) and possibly the whole bill until you have reached the total amount of your deductible.
In case of a medical emergency, you can call 144 (Swiss national emergency number). An ambulance will come and get you. Alternatively, you can visit the emergency ward of your local hospital. In case of the latter, remember to bring your insurance card and ID or passport.
Under certain circumstances, you may be eligible for premium reductions. This mainly depends on your age and/or income. You’ll either be contacted by the cantonal Social Insurance Institution (Sozialversicherungsanstalt) or you can request a reduction yourself. Please make sure to check the current regulations before applying for premium reduction. If you live in the city of Zurich, the leaflet of the “Städtische Gesundheitsdienste” can help you find out if you are eligible.
The UZH regulations regarding sick leave can be found on the website of HR.
1. UZH Employees:
There are two kinds of accident insurance.
a. Occupational accident insurance: As a UZH employee you're insured against occupational accidents by your employer. Special regulations apply in case of unpaid leave.
b. Non-occupational accident insurance: If you're working more than eight hours per week you're also insured against non-occupational accidents. If you're working less hours, you need to take out private insurance.
Please visit the HR website for more details.
Students who have an accident on the premises of the University of Zurich are not insured through UZH. Because no comprehensive work-related or non-work-related accident insurance exists for students, it is recommended that they conclude an insurance policy that has adequate coverage for Switzerland. This is especially important for students who work in labs.
Students who are employed (at UZH) for more than 8 hours per week are insured by UZH/the employer in the case of both work-related and non-work-related accidents. Students in employment relationships of under 8 hours per week are granted only work-related accident insurance.
Private liability insurance is not mandatory in Switzerland, but it is advisable to take out insurance covering yourself and your property. Private liability insurance protects you in case you inflict damage to other persons or objects. Some landlords may also request evidence of your liability insurance before you can sign the rental agreement.
It is also recommended to take out a household insurance policy. Household insurance covers damages to your home caused by fire, water, or theft.
Many insurance companies offer a combination of liability and household insurance. You can compare the benefits and costs of different insurers by using the free services of comparis.