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HEALTH

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?
Whether or not you can suspend your health insurance depends on how long you stay abroad.Image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad
 

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For members

HEALTH INSURANCE

What you should know about Swiss health insurance comparison sites

Premium comparators promise to help policyholders find the best rates for Switzerland’s health insurance premiums. But some sites present inaccurate information, while others provide no comparison at all.

What you should know about Swiss health insurance comparison sites

Health insurance premiums for the compulsory (KVG / LaMal) coverage are set to increase by 6.6 percent on average in 2023 — and in some cantons by even more.

For instance, the highest, above-national-average premiums will hit Neuchâtel (+9.5 percent), Appenzell Innerrhoden (9.3 percent), and Ticino (9.2 percent).

Residents of Zurich will see their premiums increase by 7 percent.

READ MORE: Which Swiss cantons will see the biggest increase in health insurance premiums?

The decision to switch to another carrier must be made before November 30th, so many policyholders may be looking for cheaper rates right now.

Various Swiss sites provide what they say are “comparisons” of rates offered by different insurance carriers, so that consumers can choose whichever option is best for them.

But as a recent consumer report by RTS public broadcaster revealed, “these sites are not always reliable and the results vary from one platform to another”.

The report analysed 16 such platforms.

However, “despite their appearance, nine of the platforms in question offer no comparison. They simply collect user data, often with a view to transmitting it to a broker who can use it to offer insurance”, RTS reported.

Who are the worst ‘offenders’?

The RTS has identified three: comparativecaisse Maladie.ch, OffresCaisse Maladie.ch, and Visionna.ch.

According to the report, Groupe Mutuel insurance company “is hiding behind each of these sites”.

After the broadcast, Groupe Mutuel suspended these websites, before putting them back online in modified versions.

“We immediately demanded an overhaul of the websites concerned from our external marketing agencies, so that the content is more explicit and to avoid any confusion”, the company said, apologizing to consumers “who would have felt misinformed”.

‘Deception’

While there is no actual proof— only suspicions — that companies provide flawed comparisons for their own benefit, “if a platform, which is supposed to represent several or all insurers, represents only one, there may be deception”, according to State Secretariat of Economic Affairs (SECO), which monitors these activities.

In fact, the Groupe Mutuel is not the only carrier found to engage in this practice.

“When these sites are run by brokerage companies, we know that they sign contracts with certain health insurance companies which need, for various reasons, to attract new customers”, said Yannis Papadaniel, head of the health sector at the FRC consumer federation.

“These platforms will highlight the insurance products with which the brokers have signed a contract. However, these products or these models are not necessarily those which will best meet customers’ needs”, he added.

In other words, they are not only inaccurate, but also biased.

Who can you trust?

Not all such platforms are deceptive, however.

This official government site has the latest, and accurate, information about various rates.

Also, the online comparator on the FRC site is reliable and impartial.

Two consumer platforms, Comparis and Bonus, are also helpful sources, though they do have adverts for insurance companies.

Both do, however, let consumers know that these are paid advertisements, rather than their own recommendations.

READ MORE: How people in Switzerland can save money on healthcare

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