VZP monopoly on foreigners’ health insurance to be abolished


The controversial monopoly, enshrined in law, which one company has held over health insurance for non-EU citizens for the last two years, has finally been abolished. The lower house of parliament voted last week to overturn the widely-criticised law that made it mandatory for people from so-called “third countries” to take out health insurance with VZP, Czechia’s largest health insurance provider.

VZP | Photo: Tomáš Adamec,  Czech Radio

Citizens of non-EU countries who come to Czechia on a long-term visa are legally obliged to take out private health insurance in the country. But they often bump up against problems, says Magda Faltová, head of the Association for Integration and Migration, who detailed some of the problems foreigners face regarding health insurance for Czech Radio:

"In practice, it often happens that the insurance company does not want to pay up to the set limit and invokes some conditions, claiming, for example, that the foreigner became ill before the insurance was taken out. Doctors often do not want to examine them, because foreigners and private insurance are accompanied by a great deal of bureaucracy. There are also concerns that the costs may not be paid. The foreigners often have to pay the sum in cash and then only get the money back retrospectively from their insurance company.”

According to a law approved by the lower house of parliament in 2021, non-EU citizens have no say over which company to take out their insurance with – since the summer of that year, only the largest health insurance company in the country, VZP, has been allowed to insure foreigners.

Magda Faltová | Photo: Jana Přinosilová,  Czech Radio

This legally-enshrined monopoly was naturally accompanied by a huge increase in prices, which foreigners had no choice but to pay. Rates rose by as much as 100 percent in some places, according to Czech news site idnes.cz, and taking out health insurance became a huge financial burden which many could not afford. Some were forced to take out loans to be able to afford health insurance for their families.

The 2021 decision was criticised from many corners, including the Czech Chamber of Commerce, the ministries of health and finance, and the Czech Association of Insurance Companies, which filed a complaint to the European Commission, arguing that the ruling did not comply with EU competition law. Czechia was threatened with proceedings for violation of EU law, and foreigners themselves also complained, with more than 2,500 of them signing petitions against the practice.

Czech and EU flags | Illustrative photo: archive of Czech Government

But this monopoly has now been overturned by the lower house, who approved a Senate proposal to abolish it last week. Magda Faltová explains who this decision will primarily affect:

“It is mainly people with long-term visas or residence permits who cannot get insurance through their employer. That means people who are unemployed or self-employed, family members of people working in the Czech Republic, students, and children.”

The new amendment will allow foreigners to terminate their contract with VZP within three months and take out insurance with a company of their choice. The amendment also entails increasing the maximum insurance coverage limit for foreigners to 400,000 euros. The change now needs to go back to the Senate and be signed by the president before it becomes law.

Petr Pavel speaking in the lower chamber of the Czech Parliament | Photo: Zuzana Jarolímková,  Czech Radio

In Faltová’s opinion, this amendment is an important first step, but believes that people from non-EU countries who live in the Czech Republic should be included in the local public health insurance, like EU citizens are:

“In our opinion, foreigners who live long-term in the Czech Republic should have access to state health insurance. A first step is that this should now be possible for children from January 1, 2024. But other people who have been living here for more than a year should also be integrated. This would strengthen the public health insurance system.”