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Swedish healthcare: all you need to know

Swedish healthcare: all you need to know
Sweden is a comparatively expensive place to live compared to the rest of Europe, but it delivers an exceptional standard of living. Considered political stable, the country attracts many expatriates.

In fact, 12 percent of Sweden's population is foreign-born, with large numbers of expats living and working in Stockholm.

What makes Sweden an attractive choice for expats is that they are entitled to receive the same healthcare, education, and welfare benefits as the native population.

Sweden prioritizes better healthcare

The healthcare system in Sweden is often used as a model by other countries. Although the country doesn't spending as much as some others, it still manages to deliver excellent services for everyone.

The country spends 9 percent of GDP on healthcare, which is almost half of the US healthcare budget, but it still achieves high life expectancy and low infant mortality rates.

Patients enjoy the shortest hospital stays, compared to wealthier nations such as the US, western Europe, Canada, Japan, China, and Australia.

In 2003, Sweden implemented a nationwide strategy to improve population well-being, which involved tackling the underlying determinants of health including housing, education, access to leisure activities and financial support for the poor and unemployed.

Highlights of the Swedish system

The most noteworthy feature of the healthcare system in Sweden is the availability of healthcare for all, including both native citizens and expats.

Admittedly, the country faces challenges in funding, efficiency, and quality of its healthcare services, but improvements are continually being made. This all contributes to the low mortality rate and higher-than-average life expectancy which is 79.5 years for men and 83.5 years for women.

In Sweden, most adult patients have to contribute a modest amount towards services such as a visit to the doctor. Health and dental care, as well as care for the elderly and disabled, is decentralized to local county councils and municipalities.

However, Sweden is leaning towards making its healthcare industry more competitive through privatizing some services. Today, you can find private hospitals with for-profit healthcare operations, which encourages the promotion of Sweden as a top destination for medical tourism.

Furthermore, there are certain rulings that make Swedish healthcare system one of the very best in the world. Waiting times for pre-planned care, such as hip-replacement surgery or cataracts, cannot exceed 90-days. This means that if you, as an expat or a Swedish citizen, see a specialist that confirms you require surgery, you will receive proper treatment within 90 days.

If the waiting period is likely to exceed this time limit, you can go elsewhere for treatment and the council will pay the bill, including the cost of travel for surgery.

Eligibility for expats in Sweden

Healthcare coverage in Sweden is universal, which means all residents, including expatriates, have access to publically financed healthcare services. This system covers inpatient and outpatient hospital care, prescription drugs, primary healthcare, dental care for children and young people, public health and preventive services, disability support and rehabilitation services.

In addition, homecare, nursing homecare, and patient transport support services are also covered under the publicly financed healthcare system.

Healthcare at what cost?

It is important to understand that, contrary to popular belief, healthcare in Sweden isn’t always 100 percent free. Cost-sharing arrangements are available for most publicly financed services.

For example, patients may have to make a contribution of 200-300 Swedish crowns for a visit to a specialist, or pay 80 crowns per day for a hospital stay. The good thing is that health and dental care is subsidized by the government, and there are cost ceilings in place for healthcare services, which expatriates can take advantage of.

Reassuringly, there is a limit on individual contributions to healthcare of 900 crowns per year. Once you have reached this limit, all other healthcare services and medical consultations for the remainder of the 12-month period are free of charge.

Similarly, the limit on outpatient pharmaceuticals is 1,800 crowns a year, and children are exempt from cost sharing for all health services.

Expats in Sweden need to be aware of certain conditions. They must be residents for at least a year before they can receive dental care benefits under the Swedish healthcare system.

They must also have a Swedish personal identity number and all taxes must be paid. Dental care is available free of charge for children and adolescents up to the age of 20. Allowance is provided for regular visits, depending upon the age of a person – an allowance of 150 crowns/year is available for people aged 30-74.

However, emergency dental care services are available free of charge for EU/EEA citizens who are covered in their home country and can produce a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).


Primary healthcare: private v public

Effective January 2010, a patient can choose between private and public healthcare for their primary care, which is one of the reasons why there has been a steady increase in the number of private healthcare providers in the recent years.

Still, county councils are tasked with providing everyone in Sweden with quality medical care. They are also responsible for collecting income tax, instigating projects in preventative medicine and promoting wellness.

Overall, the heavily subsidized healthcare system in Sweden makes healthcare widely available to its population. Although the services may not be free, payments are modest and generally affordable.

Surprisingly, the Swedish government is also deliberating offering the same direct access to state subsidized healthcare even to undocumented immigrants.

What is most encouraging is that children under 18 will enjoy the same rights as Swedish children, which means that not only will they have rights to emergency care, but they will also have access to dentistry and preventive care through the all-important years of development.

This certainly indicates how serious Sweden is about providing healthcare services to all, irrespective of nationality and status.

However, expats may choose to supplement the Swedish healthcare system with international health insurance to cover medical repatriation, restorative dental surgery and cancer treatments.

Find out more about how an international medical insurance plan can offer you or your family added health protection as expats in Sweden.

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