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MONEY

How to make the most of reward schemes on your German health insurance

Most people in Germany pay for health insurance, but did you know that many providers also have reward schemes that let you earn points for healthy living? Whether you’re a gym bunny or a couch potato, here's how to make the most of them.

Jogger in Dresden, Saxony
A man goes for a jog in Volkspark Großer Garten in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

I’ve got health insurance. What’s all this about rewards?

We’re glad you asked! Health insurance bonus or reward schemes are incentives designed to encourage people to take a more proactive approach to managing their health. 

Generally, people participating in the schemes can collect points for deductions in their healthcare payments or other rewards for doing things to improve their health and wellbeing. They’re available for most people with insurance, regardless of whether you’re employed, self-employed, a student or a pensioner. 

These schemes are entirely voluntary but can be a great way of saving a bit of money on your health insurance for things you might do anyway, like going to the gym or getting a dental check-up.

You won’t face penalties for not completing activities, so there’s no risk involved in participating. 

The idea is that by offering cash or other incentives for people to improve their lifestyle, insurance companies are far less likely to have to shell out money for treatment later on. Ever heard the phrase, “Prevention is better than cure?”. Well, that’s pretty much the motto of these bonus schemes. 

If you have statutory health insurance such as AOK, TK or one of the regional state providers, your insurance is bound by law to offer extras like bonus schemes, so it could be worth checking their website to see what you can find out. 

Private providers may also offer them as a way of enticing new customers and trying to keep their existing customers healthy. 

Maximum bonuses are generally around €300 for a single person and €600 for a family, so participating could be well worth your while.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The three new services covered by German health insurance

What kind of things count as ‘healthy living’? 

That partially depends on your insurance provider, but generally bonuses are given out for things like getting regular check-ups, going to the gym, visiting the dentist or taking a course on health and wellbeing.

Technische Krankenkasse (TK), for instance, offer 200 points for doing an early cancer screening such as a smear test, 200 points for a dental check-up and 400 points for getting a Covid vaccination. They also offer points for taking part in sports activities and events.

These points can be redeemed for money off your health insurance or issued as a ‘TK Health Dividend’ which can be used to pay for treatments or other healthy activities like courses on health and nutrition. You can find a full list of the activities covered and more about the bonus scheme here.

The other major state health insurance provider, AOK, runs a similar bonus scheme with points doled out for regular check-ups, dental treatment, having a gym membership and Covid-19 vaccination.

They also offer a bonus of 2,000 points (equivalent to €20) for socially conscious activities like donating blood. Find out more about the AOK scheme here

In the case of both TK and AOK, 100 points is equivalent to €1. 

Barmer, a public health insurance that caters to English speakers, also offers a bonus scheme with up to €100 available for things like regular check-ups, having a gym membership and maintaining a healthy BMI. 

Meanwhile, IKKBB, a regional insurance provider for the Berlin-Brandenburg areas, offers a €20 bonus for quitting smoking, €10 for having a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), €75 for regular exercise and other incentives for check-ups and healthy living courses. 

Sounds great – where do I sign up? 

That all depends on your provider, but generally you’ll be able to sign up online in your health insurance’s customer portal, in person at a local branch or in their app. 

If you’re not with any of the providers listed above, you may able to find details of their rewards scheme and how to participate by Googling the name of your provider and the word “Bonusprogramm” (rewards or bonus programme) – or by visiting their website.

You’ll generally be expected to sign a disclaimer to say that you consent to your personal data being used for the purpose of collecting points or cashback. 

After you’ve signed up, you’ll need to prove you’ve taken part in activities by uploading relevant photos or collecting ‘stamps’ on your app or a paper booklet.

People at the gym

Two people run on treadmills at Campus Sports Club in Saarbrücken. Rewards are often earned by having a gym membership or attending classes. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Dietze

So for example, if you’ve just been to the hygienist, you may need to get them to confirm the activity in your in-app activity log or by placing a stamp in a booklet that you can then send to your health insurance provider. 

READ ALSO: 12 ways to improve your life in Germany without even trying

In the case of AOK, you can opt to synchronise the Bonus App with a fitness tracker like FitBit and enter data on your sports activities that way.

Other activities, such as check-ups, may also be tracked automatically by your insurance provider if you are enrolled in the scheme. 

Contact your insurance or consult their website to find out more about the kind of evidence they require for the bonus scheme. 

Does this affect my taxes in any way? 

It may do – but it all depends on how much you ‘earn’ in bonuses.

Generally, taxpayers can declare their health insurance contributions – whether statutory or private – as special expenses in their tax return. This reduces the taxable income and, with it, the amount of tax you have to pay.

However, if you receive, say, €200 off your insurance bill, you need to make sure this is calculated in the tax bill – which basically means you’ll have fewer expenses to write off.

There is some good news for taxpayers, however. According to a recent report by Handelsblatt, the first €150 in bonuses earned does not need to be accounted for in your tax return.

In order to simplify things for taxpayers, up to €150 is classified as benefits from the statutory health insurance fund and therefore shouldn’t be deducted from expenses, the Ministry of Finance confirmed.

Above this amount, only the ‘surplus’ is counted – so in the case of a €200 bonus, only €50 would be deducted from the total amount you’ve spent on health insurance that year. 

What else do I need to know?

According to the German Consumer Rights Centre (VZ), the devil tends to be in the detail with these bonus programmes – so make sure you know all of the relevant terms and conditions.

Generally, health insurance providers will try and entice you with incredible looking bonuses of €300 or more, but be aware that this is the maximum you can earn – not the standard payout. Unless you’re an absolute superhuman when it comes to health (or have a lot of time on your hands), the real bonus is likely to be a fair bit less.

You may also notice that not all of the activities required to collect points are free of charge, so these may only worth doing if you’re keen to do them for the health benefits rather than the financial gain. Others, like online health courses, may be subsidised or offered for free by your insurance – so be sure to read up on what’s on offer.

If you’re signing up with a partner or family members who are covered on your insurance, it’s worth reading up on the rules. Some programmes will allow you to pool points with your family members or transfer them to another person on your insurance, but generally this doesn’t work in all directions.

Child Covid jab

A five year old boy receives a Covid vaccination in Frankenthal, Rhineland-Palatinate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

For example, parents may be able to share points with their children but not the other way around. Equally, you may find that a partner who’s included on the insurance is offered a slightly less generous rewards scheme than the person paying into the pot. That means that you may want to think twice before sharing your points or consider transferring them to the person with the best bonuses, if possible.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to bring up a child in Germany?

Another thing to consider are deadlines for gathering and/or submitting points. Some insurers such as TK specify that you have to gather a minimum number of points in order to receive a reward, so be sure to do this in the allotted time to prevent points being wasted.

Often, bonus schemes run for a year and points are finalised by March 31st, so if you join a new health insurance in January you may have to rush to get your activities in in order to save that year. Others may link the deadline to your registration date, giving you 12 or 13 months from when you sign up to collect points and earn rewards. 

Check with your health insurance provider for any deadlines and T&Cs, and be aware that your points will be invalidated if you switch providers before redeeming them. 

Vocabulary

Bonus/rewards programme – (das) Bonusprogramm

collect points – Punkte sammeln 

special (tax) expenses – (die) Sonderausgaben 

check-up – (der) Gesundheitscheck 

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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For members

ENERGY

When will Germany’s fuel tax cut come into force?

As part of its package of energy relief measures, the German government is hoping to give car drivers a discount at the petrol pump. But how will it work and when will it come into force?

When will Germany's fuel tax cut come into force?

What’s going on? 

It hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention that energy prices have skyrocketed in recent months. Along with eye-wateringly high heating and electricity bills, drivers have also been feeling the pinch at the petrol pump.

Even before the Ukraine war broke out, energy supply issues were driving up prices at petrol stations – a situation that led to the absurd spectacle of Germans driving across the border to Switzerland (one of the most expensive countries in the world) to fill up their tank for less.

In the early weeks of the war, it wasn’t uncommon to pay €2.20 per litre for Super E10 petrol in Germany, while diesel could average as much as €2.29 per litre. This represents a whopping 45 cent increase on petrol prices and 65 cents on diesel prices compared to the same time last year.

To help people struggling with the price hikes, Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) initially pitched the idea of a “fuel discount” that petrol station owners could offer to customers and then claim back from the state. But there was such an intense backlash to this proposal that it essentially fell at the first hurdle and never made it into the government’s package of energy relief measures.

Instead, the government is hoping to give drivers a discount another way: by reducing the energy taxes levied on each litre of fuel for three months. It’s hoping that this will also go some way to reducing petrol prices over summer. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s proposals for future energy price relief

But haven’t fuel prices gone down again recently?

That’s right. But experts don’t think this amounts to a stabilisation in the long term.

Both petrol and diesel prices sunk quite significantly after the initial price shock, but are climbing up steadily again – and according to motorists’ association ADAC, both remain a little over €2 per litre

This means drivers are still paying significantly more to fill up their tanks than they were a year ago, so the upcoming tax cut will no doubt be welcome. 

How much of a discount can drivers expect?

If all of it is passed on to consumers, the cut in energy tax is expected to reduce the price of a litre of diesel by around 14 cents, while a litre of petrol will be reduced by almost 30 cents.

That’s equivalent to a saving of €15 on a 50-litre tank of E10 and €7 on a 50-litre tank of diesel. 

Of course, a lot also depends on the development of the energy market: if prices continue to go up, drivers may not feel they’re saving a great deal, but it should make a difference in the short-term.

According to ADAC, around 48 percent of the cost of a litre of fuel goes directly to the state through the CO2 tax, energy tax, value-added tax (VAT) and other fossil fuel taxes – so tax cuts can make a big difference. 

But the price of purchasing fossil fuels (which has been affected through the war and supply chain issues) and the strength of the dollar are also important factors that determine how much horror drivers experience on their visits to the petrol station. 

Fuel prices in Germany March 2022

Fuel prices at a petrol station in Cologne on March 9th, 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

What’s the timeline for this? 

The government is hoping to pass its entire package of energy relief measures in the Bundestag on Thursday and get approval from the Bundesrat on Friday. This will get the ball rolling for many of the measures to launch next month. 

Much like the €9 monthly travel ticket for trains and buses, the fuel tax cut is a time-limited measure, and just like the discounted ticket, it will run from the start of June to the end of August.

Since it’s up to petrol station owners to pass their savings onto consumers, however, experts predict a lag of a few days before drivers start seeing the tax cut reflected in the fuel prices. 

At that point, ADAC is predicting that drivers will go on a manic spending spree, so they’re advising people not to drive in the early days of June with a near-empty tank. If they do, they could face some long queues at the petrol station. 

Aren’t we trying to save on energy at the moment?

Well, quite. With fears growing that Russia could turn off the taps in retaliation for Germany’s support for Ukraine, the message from the government has been all about conserving energy as much as possible in the lead-up to winter.

But by reducing the price of fuel, the same government is essentially encouraging people to use their cars more often, economists say. 

“It is counterproductive to lower petrol station prices in this situation, because then people will drive more,” economist Veronika Grimm told Tagesschau. “And that is exactly the opposite of what they want to achieve.” 

READ ALSO: Russia using energy ‘as weapon’, says Berlin

An ARAL petrol station in Leipzig.

An ARAL petrol station in Leipzig. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jan Woitas

At this point, you might expect an uproar from the Greens – who are part of the governing traffic-light coalition along with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Free Democrats (FDP). But that uprising seems to have been headed off at the pass by the €9 public transport ticket that will run alongside the fuel discount. 

In fact, Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) has admitted that the tax cut “isn’t the most targeted measure” but says the continued high price of fuel will still put many people off driving.

“Many people are suffering from the high fuel prices,” says Habeck. “They’ll still suffer enough even if the fuel tax is lowered for three months. So in truth it’s not really cheap driving.” 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s relief package against rising prices means for you

What else are people saying? 

The other major criticism of the fuel tax cut is that it’s likely to benefit the wrong people. 

“Typically, those who drive a lot benefit from fuel rebates,” Grimm told Tagesschau. “And those are the ones who have who have multiple cars. These are typically the higher earners.” 

This has led to criticism that the €3.15 billion that the rebate will cost is essentially a redistribution of wealth to the top of society, rather than the bottom.

READ ALSO: Who benefits the most – and least – from Germany’s energy relief measures?

Obviously, the government disagrees with this assessment. They argue that cheaper fuel will help drivers foot their bills and stimulate the economy at the same time.

The motorists’ association ADAC is also concerned that the measure may lead to queues at petrol stations, but says that drivers can still opt to save fuel of their own accord over summer.

The best way to do this is to pump up the tyres, ditch the roof rack and other unnecessary weight, and drive at a slow, steady speed to avoid accelerating and braking too much, ADAC explains. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s largest car club calls on drivers to ditch their cars

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