SHARE
COPY LINK

HEALTH

Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

The government passes on the costs for ambulances, but the compulsory health insurance might cover the payments - in some very specific cases.

Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

Austria has a health system with compulsory health insurance for its citizens, similar to many of its neighbouring countries. Everyone is insured, either by their employer, themselves, or, in some cases, by the state.

However, the insurance models can get complicated and the “who pays for what” question can result in some costly responses. In the case of an emergency, when an ambulance is called, the professional rescue is made by the government ambulances and rescue service.

The costs are then paid for by the health insurance fund, with 75 per cent of Austrians covered by the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK).

Can the health insurance companies refuse? 

The health insurance companies refuse to cover the costs for four main reasons, according to the City of Vienna: when the person is not insured at the time of the rescue operation, when there is no “medical emergency”, in cases of alcohol or drug abuse, and in case the person is found dead when the emergency services arrive.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

The exceptions are not without controversy, and patient lawyer Sigrid Pilz criticises the “lack of love in the procedure”, according to statements she has given in Austrian media.

There is also very little clarity on what qualifies as a “medical emergency”, and the health insurer says that it will cover costs when the insured person is “unable to talk and cannot use public transport due to their physical or mental condition, even with an accompanying person”.

“Only medical reasons count”, according to the ÖGK website.

Air rescue in Austria

Another significant exception to the insurance coverage concerns air rescue. The ÖGK says that it will cover the costs of domestic transport by aircraft if the patient is in danger of death, and the urgency calls for air transport. Additionally, the medical necessity must be proven by a doctor and recognised by the ÖGK.

The insurance company highlights that this does not include “accidents in the practice of sport and tourism on the mountain” – a not so rare occurrence in the Alpine country.

On its website, ÖGK reiterates that it “recommends taking appropriate precautions. Otherwise, an emergency can quickly become a big financial problem”.

The “appropriate precautions”, according to expert lawyers, would include hiring private insurance.

How much does it cost to call an ambulance?

The fees for emergency rescue are set by the municipal council in Austria. In Vienna, there is a lump payment of €709 for any use of the public rescue service – even if both assistance and transport have been deemed unnecessary.

There is also a €30 fee for each kilometre driven if the assistance is needed outside the city limits.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How freelancers in Austria can pay four times less in social insurance

The fee is valid from the moment an ambulance leaves its station. In practical terms, this means that if somebody faints on the street and a third person calls the ambulance in concern, emergency service will come. Even if the patient wakes up well and does not require assistance, they will receive a €709 bill.

There are several cases of people who called an ambulance after foot injuries, or due to high fever, for example, and as they were not considered “severe enough”, received the payment request.

It is worth mentioning that there are also ways to waive or reduce the fee, including in cases of low income or after direct negotiation with the insurance company.

It is not difficult to find examples, especially among immigrant groups and Austrian media.

In one case, shared on social media, Irina B. was a student in Vienna when she got sick with a high fever and dry cough – before the coronavirus pandemic. She decided to call the emergency ambulance and received a quick checkup at home and the recommendation to “drink a lot of tea”.

“On the day after, I went to my doctor, and he gave me treatment recommendations. I almost forgot about this story, but four months later I received a letter asking me to pay around € 700”, she wrote.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s new rules around sick leave for employees?

She decided to go to the main insurance office with her doctor’s sick note. The ÖGK representative told her to call the general health line 1450 in cases such as hers in the future and waived the payment.

“He said it was my first penalty, and I also suppose the certificate from my doctor really helped”, Irina said.

What should you do to avoid the high ambulance costs?

The best way to avoid ambulance costs is to call the Austrian health line at 1450. The health workers are trained to give advice on the phone.

They can quickly assess whether you need an ambulance or not – they can also call for you immediately.

The health line can also give medical advice if there is no emergency and call a doctor to your house if necessary.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s ‘tick vaccine’ and should you take it?

Whenever travelling, even inside Austria, primarily if you practise winter sports, it is worth considering private insurance with air rescue coverage.

Costs for helicopter rescues could add up to thousands of euros. The compulsory insurers will not cover in most cases.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

VIENNA

What makes Vienna the ‘most liveable city’ and where can it improve?

Vienna is once again at the top of the global liveability index, but what does it mean and where can Austria's capital still improve?

What makes Vienna the 'most liveable city' and where can it improve?

The Austrian capital city of Vienna made a comeback as the world’s most liveable city after it tumbled down to 34th place due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Now, Vienna tops a ranking dominated by Western European cities, and it scores highly in nearly all criteria, including stability, healthcare, education, and infrastructure, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

READ ALSO: Vienna returns to top ranking as world’s ‘most liveable city

What does each of these points mean and in which areas is the city still not the best?

The liveability score is reached through category weights, each divided into subcategories. The indicators are then scored based on either judgement of “in-house expert geography analysts and a field correspondent based in each city” for qualitative variables.

In the case of quantitative variables, the rating is calculated based on the relative performance of a location using external data, such as information from the World Bank or Transparency International, for example.

Karlskirche, or St. Charles Church, in Vienna (Copyright: © WienTourismus/Christian Stemper)

Stability

Vienna got a 100 percent score in this category, which is measured based on several indicators. The EIU rating evaluated the prevalence of petty crime and of violent crime. It also looked into the threat of terrorism, military conflict, and civil unrest threats.

Healthcare

This was another category Austria’s capital aced – and an improvement from the pandemic years, when it lost points on healthcare.

READ ALSO: Ten essential apps to download for living in Vienna

The rating considers the availability and quality of both private and public healthcare. It also looks into the availability of over-the-counter drugs and general healthcare indicators provided by the World Bank.

Education

Vienna got a total of 100 points for this category, which considered the availability and quality of private education and looked into World Bank data on public education indicators.

Infrastructure

Another 100 percent for Austria’s capital which was found to have a good quality of road network, public transport, international links, energy provision, water provision and telecommunications. The ranking also considered the availability of good-quality housing.

Theater in Vienna (© WienTourismus/Paul Bauer)

Culture & Environment

This was the only category where Vienna did not get 100 points. Instead, it scored 96.3, which was still higher than many of the top ten cities. Vancouver, Canada, was the only city at the top of the ranking that got a 100. Melbourne and Amsterdam also fared slightly better than Vienna.

READ ALSO: ​​The downsides of Vienna you should be aware of before moving there

The category looks into humidity and temperature rating, the discomfort of climate for travellers, level of corruption, social or religious restrictions, level of censorship, sporting availability, cultural availability, food and drink, and consumer goods and services.

Among all of these indicators, only the humidity/temperature rating, which is adapted from average weather conditions, didn’t receive the highest grade.

What can Vienna do to get better?

Even in the indicators where the Austrian capital did well, there are always things to improve, especially concerning the risks to the quality of living that rising inflation and the Ukrainian war bring.

When it comes to weather, though the city cannot control when it rains or shines, there are many things it can do to improve living conditions on those scorching summer days or freezing winter evenings.

READ ALSO: ‘Cool streets’: How Vienna is preparing for climate change and heatwaves

As summer and heatwaves arrive, it is already looking to bring more green areas and avoid “heat islands” building up in the city centre. It also has built fog showers, drinking fountains and increased offers of “cool” areas where people can escape the extreme heat.

Also, looking to reduce the use of cars and make life better for residents, Vienna is betting on the “15-minute city” concept. This means that Austria’s capital is trying to make the essential everyday routes and destinations, including metro stations, reachable by a 15-minute walk.

SHOW COMMENTS