Overview of Healthcare in Hungary and What Expats Should Know
Hungary operates under a program of universal healthcare, which covers 100% of the population. Overall, the standard of public healthcare in Hungary ranges from fair to very good. It is very inconsistent. In urban areas such as Budapest, there are excellent hospitals, doctors, and research programs. However, the same can’t be said of all facilities across the country. Unfortunately, many hospitals and clinics are out of date. Others are understaffed and lacking diagnostic testing capabilities. At present, Hungary’s healthcare system is in need of a serious infusion of cash to bring its aging infrastructure up to date. It’s currently ranked 66th in the world by the World Health Organization.
How the Hungarian Healthcare System is Funded
Hungary’s healthcare system is financed through the Health Insurance Fund (HIF). The HIF is primarily funded through payroll contributions, taxation, and co-pays on auxiliary services. Health insurance contributions are collected from employees via the payroll system. This usually works out to be about 3% of an employee’s income. Employers cover an additional 15%. Additionally, patients can expect co-pay costs on several auxiliary services. This includes prescriptions, dental care, and rehabilitation services. These fees serve as a further form of funding for the system.
Children, parents with a baby at home, students, retirees, people with no income, those with disabilities, priests, and other church employees are covered by the HIF at no cost at all. Should the system be underfunded or in need of capital costs, the government must provide budgetary assistance.
In turn, the HIF is responsible for allocating funds to 20 county branches. These county branches then enter into contracts with health care providers, which are usually local governments. As such, funds should be distributed equitably to all parts of the country. However, in reality, the south and east of the country always seem to be chronically underfunded and lacking in resources. While Hungary looks like a small country there are real regional disparities to contend with. If you’re considering insurance, make sure you have adequate coverage to compensate for these gaps of care.
Since 2010, the responsibility for handling the national health insurance fund rests in the hands of an office under the control of the government. In the past, an independent body was responsible for oversight. Critics of the new system say that it invites corruption and makes spending less efficient.
The Differences Between Private and Public Care
There is a stark difference between the standards of private and public care in Hungary. The private healthcare system is staffed by many of the country’s best doctors. Since the public system doctors are not well paid, many physicians migrate over to the private system as a result. Furthermore, there are more English speaking doctors in the private system compared to the public system.
In addition to staffing differences, visiting a private hospital or clinic means much shorter waiting times, access to a wider range of specialists, and more comfortable, modern facilities. In general, most expats are glad that they have access to care within the public system. However, many still carry private supplemental health insurance and prefer to use private facilities when they can.
Who is Eligible for Healthcare in Hungary
Expats from the EU and the EEA can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in Hungary. Using an EHIC means that patients receive the same standard of care as Hungarians do. However, European international citizens must apply for their free EHIC before leaving home.
Additionally, Hungary and the UK have a reciprocal health agreement. As such, British citizens receive free healthcare in Hungary and vice versa.
Finally, foreigners who are legally working in Hungary qualify for public health insurance, as well as anyone who is studying in the country, and refugees. As expats make mandatory payments to the HIF through their payroll deductions, they are eligible for coverage. In order to enroll, you’ll also need to have your ID card (személyi igazolvány) or passport (útlevél), your address card (lakcímkártya), your residency permit (tartózkodási engedély), and proof that the health insurance contribution (egészségbiztosítási járulék) has been paid.
Once enrolled, patients are issued with a national health insurance card (TAJ kártya) and a health insurance number (TAJ szám) by the National Health Insurance (OEP) office.
Healthcare Options for Expats and Foreigners
All foreigners in Hungary, including tourists, automatically receive emergency first aid treatment. However, they are expected to pay for the services they receive. Tourists should carry a global medical health insurance policy to cover any serious medical care they need in the country.
If international citizens aren’t working as part of the formal economy or are waiting for a work permit, they should carry their own private global medical insurance policy to cover any possible health-related expenses that come up.
Best Health Insurance Plan for Expats in Hungary
- The flexibility to tailor a plan to suit your individual needs
- Access to Cigna Global’s network of trusted hospitals, clinics, and doctors
- The convenience and confidence of 24/7/365 customer service
US Citizens: Best Health Insurance for Living in Hungary
- Premium Benefits, Coverage and Service
- Define your deductible and prescription benefits
- For Foreigners in the US or US Citizens Abroad
Healthcare Cultural Challenges For Expats In Hungary
Hungary’s public healthcare system may offer universal coverage but as any expat can tell you, there’s a serious hidden cost that often isn’t discussed. “Gratitude payments” are an essential part of medical appointments. A gratitude payment is a non-negotiable social convention that makes it all but mandatory for patients to leave a tip when they have a medical appointment. Even if you’re just seeing your doctor for a very short, straightforward appointment – such as a prescription renewal – gratitude payments are expected. International citizens are seen as having a lot of money and, whether or not this is true, they’re expected to be generous with their payments.
The system of gratitude payments is very real and very powerful. Many foreigners are convinced that having a reputation for poor tipping has ruined their chances of getting fast appointments. In fact, many expats have concluded that the amount they pay in tips for routine appointments comes close to what they’d pay to see a private physician, where tipping isn’t part of the cultural norm.
Availability of Doctors in Hungary
In recent years, the number of doctors working in Hungary has been decreasing as more young graduates and professionals leave the country. Meanwhile, the average age of healthcare workers is rising. One in two doctors is over the age of 50. All these factors compound to add a lot of stress on doctors and healthcare professionals, which makes them even less eager to be working in the public healthcare system. It’s a dangerous cycle that affects every patient.