Overview of Estonian healthcare system
Health is our most valuable possession, and we should take care and have awareness to look after it. This section provides a closer look at the functioning of the Estonian healthcare system. Who has the right to medical care and what does health insurance mean? Who is a “family physician” and how to register yourself on the physician’s list? Wat should you do in case of a sudden or serious health problem?
Broadly speaking, the healthcare services provided in Estonia fall into the following categories:
- emergency care
- general medical care
- specialised medical care
- nursing care
- midwifery care
The Estonian healthcare system on based on the principle of solidarity, which means that social tax (33%) is paid by employers on the salary of all employed people, and a part of it forms the health insurance premium (13% of the salary). All people with a valid health insurance can receive the necessary medical care.
The government agencies in charge of the management, financing, administration and functioning of the healthcare system in Estonia are
Health insurance guarantees confidence and equal access to medical care
Having health insurance is the most important factor in feeling safe and perceiving oneself as a full-fledged citizen because equal access to medical care is guaranteed to all people who hold health insurance. If you have health insurance, your age, income or place of residence plays no role in whether you can get a doctor’s appointment in case of a health problem.
All employed people in Estonia are holders of national health insurance; in addition, it applies to children (up to 19 years of age), the registered unemployed, pensioners, university students, pregnant women, etc. (please see the website of the Estonian Health Insurance Fund for the full list: https://www.haigekassa.ee/inimesele/kindlustus/riigi-poolt-kindlustatud). For someone who does not belong to any of the above groups, there is an option of acquiring health insurance by paying social tax and concluding a voluntary health insurance contract with the Estonian Health Insurance Fund.
The Health Insurance Fund uses the financing it receives to cover the cost of the medical services provided to the insured person if they fall ill. The Health Insurance Fund also compensates the cost of prescription medicines to a certain extent and pays the sickness benefit if the person has been on sick leave or care leave. Still, it must be noted that some services imply a deductible, i.e., the patient is obliged to pay a part of the cost of the service; for example, this applies to the specialised doctor’s visit fee or hospital in-patient fee.
Health insurance for foreign nationals
All the people staying in Estonia with a temporary or permanent residence permit must have a valid health insurance during their stay. If the Estonian national health insurance does not apply to you (see the previous section), you need to buy it yourself from a private insurance company. Such options are provided by such local insurance companies as INGES, Salva and ERGO, but you can also turn to an international insurance company, for example, Cigna or Swisscare.
Health insurance can also be purchased from the Estonian Health Insurance Fund, but it is only available to people who had health insurance in Estonia for at least 12 month within the past two years (or someone else who meets this requirement can purchase health insurance for you).
Everyone who holds health insurance is assigned to a “family physician”
All people in Estonia who have health insurance are also on the list of a general practitioner referred to as the “family physician”, and they are the first contact to turn to if you have a health problem (except for cases when emergency care is necessary). When you need specialised medical care, the family physician is also the one to give you a referral. Exceptions apply to gynaecologists, dermatologists, psychiatrists, ophthalmologists or dentists; these medical specialists do not require a referral for a visit. The family physician is to decide whether specialised medical care is necessary in your case. Referrals to specialised doctors and prescriptions in Estonia are mostly issued electronically, and the patient can choose the medical facility and specialised doctor to turn to.
The family physician is to diagnose and treat illnesses, treat chronic conditions and, if necessary, refer the patient to a specialised doctor. The family physician also prescribes medicines and gives referrals for the necessary tests.
How to register with a family physician?
You can choose a family physician yourself, and to be registered on their list of patients, you have to file an application with the physician you choose. Please remember that a separate application needs to be filled in for each of your family members. The application form in English is also available online. The application form with your data can be sent to the family physician of your choice by e-mail or post. Within seven days, the physician will inform you whether they can register you (and your family members, if you have applied for any) on their list of patients. Further information about registering with a family physician is available on the website of the Health Board.
What to do in case of a sudden health problem?
In Estonia, if you have a sudden health problem, you can first call the family physician hotline 1220. It operates 24/7 and employs trained personnel qualified to give advice in case of health problems. They can, for example, recommend what to do in case of specific symptoms and where to turn next.
Information is mostly provided in Estonian and Russian.
Counselling in English is available between 13:00 and 15:00.
Useful facts about the Estonian healthcare system
- In case of a critical emergency (injury or threat to life), call the emergency line 112 or go to the nearest emergency room (Estonian abbreviation: EMO).
- Emergency care and ambulance are provided to all the people on the territory of Estonia free of charge, including foreign nationals and those who do not have health insurance.
- In case of a health problem that does not require emergency care, contact your family physician first.
- If a family physician is not available at the moment, call the national family physicians hotline 1220.