Czech tourists to have health insurance in more countries under new agreements

While travelling abroad, falling ill and having to see a doctor could completely ruin your holidays. And it can turn into your worst nightmare if you are not insured. With the Czech Republic's future EU membership in mind, the Health Ministry is preparing agreements with most EU member states on health insurance for Czechs who travel as tourists or are employed there. Nick Carey has more.

So far the Czech Republic has concluded health insurance treaties with Croatia, Slovakia and Austria. However, the provision of healthcare on the basis of these agreements won't go very far in other EU countries, simply due to the lack of funds in the Czech health insurance system. For this reason, the Health Ministry recommends that Czechs travelling abroad arrange additional insurance in the event they require the services of a private doctor.

Preparations are underway on agreements with Slovenia, Yugoslavia, Israel, Turkey, Macedonia, Spain, Italy and Germany, which are very important, says Jana Silhanova from the Czech Health Ministry:

"The most important among them, of course, is the agreement with Germany because most Czech people are staying or travelling to Germany. Also, agreements with Spain, Italy and Croatia are very important for the tourists."

But what about the other way round, when a foreign national lives and works in the Czech Republic?

"For foreigners, when they work here, the rule is that their health care is covered by the insurance that his or her employee concludes. But if they are staying here for a long period of time and they have a contract with a Czech employer, then they have the right to be insured in the Czech insurance system."

It's not as simple and easy as it sounds. Radio Prague's Editor in chief, David Vaughan, who lives in Prague and has two small children, explains:

"Myself and my wife, we have no problem because we are insured through our employer, that's Czech Radio. Our problem is when it comes to our children because the children aren't automatically insured through us and so we had to insure them commercially. We are obliged by Czech law to insure them commercially. Then the problem arises when the child is born, the child is not insured the moment it is born. The moment the doctors start taking care of the child in the maternity hospital, you have to pay. We were lucky and both our children were born healthy but had there been a problem, we could have ended up with an enormous bill."

This seems like an untenable situation. Has anything changed for the better?

"To people who have permanent residence in this country, they have changed the regulations so that children are insured as part of the general health insurance scheme at the moment they are born. The trouble is it is only for people with permanent residence. The great majority of foreigners living in the Czech Republic are on long-term visas. That does not affect them at all, there has been no change. So if you are a foreigner living here and you have a child that is born with a problem, you could end up with a bill of many millions of crowns, which is what actually happened in one case."