Iceland: Healthcare System
| Iceland is an island nation, located in the North Atlantic with a population of 305,000 people, with roughly two-thirds of the population residing within, or in the surrounding area, of the capital Reykjavik. The country is well-known for its unique landscape, ranging from volcanic sand fields to mountains and glaciers. Iceland has one of the highest standards of living in the world and is well-known for its low pollution levels and pro-active approach to lifestyle quality issues. In recent years Iceland has become one the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world.|
The Icelandic healthcare system is well organized and leads the way with more doctors per head of population than any other country in the world. The healthcare system in Iceland is of a very high standard and generally provides patients with high quality health services – although in rural areas healthcare services are more limited. The Icelandic government provides citizens of the country with universal healthcare coverage, although there are certain fees for some health services. The Minister of Health and Social Security has ultimate responsibility for the administration of Icelandic health services.
The Health Services Act in Iceland came into effect in 1974; it entitles citizens of Iceland with the right to access the best Icelandic health services at any given time for the protection of their mental, physical and social health. The Icelandic healthcare system is described as universal, comprehensive and is mostly financed by general taxation; the taxes generated being used to fund the health sector. Over the years since 1974, the health services act has been amended as the Icelandic healthcare system has been reformed and evolved to meet changing circumstances.
Approximately 80% of the funding for the Icelandic healthcare system comes from the state budget or indirectly through the State Social Security Institute (SSSI). The Icelandic Government generates the majority of its income from personal and corporate taxes, together with value added tax (VAT) on products and services. There is also between 15-20% of healthcare funding derived from direct household payments (out-of-pocket-payments); this primarily covers partial payments for specialist consultations, outpatient operations and dental care, with contributory payments for pharmaceuticals.
The Icelandic healthcare system predominately consists of public run healthcare facilities provided by the state. Icelandic private healthcare providers are closely monitored by the Ministry of Health in Iceland, with the majority of Icelandic private healthcare providers operating within healthcare centers in the larger populated areas of the country. Specialist private healthcare operators provide their health services for a fee-for-services to patients who do not seek medical treatment from the publicly run healthcare system.
The Ministry of Health in Iceland was established in 1970, with the responsibility of governing the Icelandic health sector. The principal duty of Iceland’s Ministry of Health is to act as administrator, to direct policy and to generally oversee health insurance issues in Iceland.
The State Social Security Agency (Tryggingastofnun) in Iceland is charged with the administration of pension insurance, occupational injury insurance, maternity insurance and health insurance; it is one the largest government services in the country, operating under the Social Security Act. The Social Security Act is designed to provide Icelandic citizens with social assistance and to ensure Iceland residents obtain a basic standard of living.
Taxation of an employee’s salary is the main contributor towards the Icelandic health sector. A foreign national registered to work in Iceland, with legal residential status, will need to pay Icelandic taxes from their salaries, entitling them to the same access to healthcare as Icelandic citizens. Normally a foreign national residing and working in Iceland for more 6 months is entitled to join the SSSI and have access to public run healthcare facilities in the country. However, the local Icelandic authorities can look at a foreign national’s specific case and evaluate their circumstances to see if they will be provided with Icelandic health services. In either case, it is advisable for expatriates to obtain Icelandic international health insurance to ensure they have comprehensive healthcare cover.
Icelandic health insurance provided through the SSSI, entitles Icelandic citizens to hospital treatment, emergency medical care, ambulance services, surgical treatment, dental treatment, maternity care and covers the cost of medical equipment. Contributors to the SSSI will also have access to healthcare outside Iceland's healthcare system, if the authorities agree to the medical treatment, and if the medical procedure cannot be performed with the services available in Iceland.
A citizen of Iceland who is not in employment and not paying tax, with also be permitted access to Icelandic healthcare services. Mothers and pregnant women will receive all preventive healthcare services free in Iceland. Medication and prescription drugs may be provided to patients through the public healthcare system depending on circumstances and a citizen’s standing in society. Medication for acute illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer, and drugs for life-threatening illness will be reimbursed to the patient.
The government of Iceland will set the fees required for patients who access Icelandic healthcare services. However, there are no fees for in-patient treatments. For dental care in Iceland, anyone under the age of eighteen will be subsidized by the state, unless it is advanced dental care. Pensioners and the disabled, suffering from acute dental problems, will also receive free dental care from the state.
The Icelandic healthcare system has been largely decentralized over the years, with autonomy being granted to local authorities – even though the main Icelandic government provides the majority of the funding for the health sector. The main reason for decentralization being the vast area the country is spread across; although in recent times, there has been more focus on central government control of the Icelandic health sector partly due to cost management issues.
Primary Icelandic healthcare services are delivered by health centres (heilsugaeslustod). The Icelandic healthcare centres are situated at a local level to give patients access to health services from a general practitioner (GP), nurses and midwives. In some cases, the healthcare centers in Iceland will be run in connection with local hospitals. Medical specialist in the fields of optometry, gynaecology, paediatrics and otolaryngology will make regular visits to healthcare centres to treat patients. GP's will need to refer any patient who requires further medical treatment to a hospital.
Hospitals in Iceland are split into three categories; specialized teaching hospitals, general hospitals and community hospitals. Icelandic specialized hospitals are home to medical professionals educated and trained to conduct a range of surgical procedures and to provide healthcare services for diseases requiring advanced medical treatment.
The capital Reykjavik, and the surrounding area, together with Akureyri in the north of the country, are home to the most comprehensive healthcare services in Iceland, with the country's top medical professionals being based in these areas. Landspítali University Hospital in Reykjavik is the largest hospital and main healthcare service provider with roughly 1000 beds available and performs approximately 1400 surgical procedures a year. This facility offers citizens of Iceland comprehensive medical care and treatment. The role of Landspítali University Hospital consists of patient care, teaching and training of clinical staff, and scientific research. The hospital is equipped to deliver clinical services in out-patient clinics, in-patient procedures, day patient and laboratory services.
The Icelandic National Health Plan – up to the year 2010 – is the latest healthcare plan being applied. This is primarily focused on sectors covering senior citizens, children, mental health and heart, brain and cancer disease prevention. The aim is to develop health matters in these specific areas and to further evaluate medium term needs. As society needs change overtime, the Icelandic healthcare system is adapting to ensure it keeps up with the demands of Icelandic citizens’ health requirements.
While Iceland is not a member of the European Union, it has affiliated arrangements with EU member states for reciprocal healthcare – under the EHIC (European Health Union Insurance Card) process. This allows citizens from participating countries access to the same medical care as an Icelandic citizen – should they need medical treatment while traveling through the country. However, holders of the EHIC are still urged to take out Icelandic international health insurance to provide full medical coverage as the EHIC does not cover medical costs for on-going medical treatment, air ambulance services or repatriation in the event of a serious injury or medical condition.
If you are planning any tours of natural attractions in Iceland, which include – volcanic craters, glaciers, lava fields, hot springs, ice caves, boiling mudpots, geyser, glacial rivers and waterfalls – you should be aware that these activities can pose a risk to an individual if an accident were to occur. If a person was injured, or taken ill, while in a remote region of Iceland, there is limited healthcare facilities and medical transportation available; although air ambulance services are present in the country and will be called upon if required. However, the patient is liable for the cost of using such a services and it is strongly advised to ensure you have air lift coverage included in your healthcare insurance for Iceland.
As a foreign national in Iceland, you are required to pay for all healthcare services used. If you are a holder of a European Union Insurance Card you will receive emergency healthcare service free, but you will be required to make any further payments for services and the cost or repatriation if the circumstances deem it necessary. It is advisable that all visitors to Iceland take out comprehensive Icelandic international health insurance to give them coverage of healthcare services while in the country; it is recommended that you are covered for the possible need for air ambulance services and repatriation, as the use of these services would be very costly.
The Icelandic healthcare system is extremely well developed, with the only noticeable flaw being limited access to healthcare services in the less urbanized areas of the country. The Icelandic healthcare system provides citizens of Iceland with a good, high quality of health service, and will ensure provision of medical care for all patients when required. In the case of a complex treatment which cannot be performed within the Icelandic health sector, the SSSI and Icelandic Ministry of Health will facilitate the sending of the patient to a country which can conduct the procedure required. Because the public Icelandic healthcare system is of such high quality, and it is written in law that all citizens of Iceland are entitled to the best health service available at all times, privately run healthcare provision only forms a small proportion of the Icelandic health sector; this predominately consists of specialist outpatient care. The private medical system can also treat patients who are insured via the government SSSI scheme.
If you are looking for peace-of-mind knowing that medical costs will be covered in case of an accident or illness, to yourself and your family, while traveling to or residing in Iceland, an international medical insurance plan will be the ideal solution. Policies can be tailor-made to ensure all your needs are met while in Iceland. Should you require further information on Iceland, global medical insurance, or to receive a free quotation, please do not hesitate to call one of our expert advisers now.