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The Greek Health System

The Greeks have one of the longest life expectancy rates in the world and one of the cheapest health services in the European Union, yet it is not of the same standard as that in most northern European countries. Improvements are continually being made thanks to EU funding and greater government attention. The country offers both a private and public health system both operating hand in hand with one another, but on the Greek Islands public medical facilities are limited and you may be forced to rely on the private sector. In Greece, medical professionals offer highly skilled care.

The Greek National Health Service
The Greek National Health Service is run by the Idrima Kinonikon Asfalisseon (IKA). They provide a free and subsidised service covering medical and dental healthcare for all Greek citizens and foreign nationals who meet their criteria by paying Greek social security. Anyone who is of pensionable age including old age pensioners from EU countries qualify for free care. The IKA cover healthcare services such as visits to doctors and specialists, hospital stays, lab tests, prescription medicine (subsidised), essential dental treatment, maternity, surgical appliances and transportation costs to and from hospital (subsidised).

How it Works
Employers deduct contributions from your salary and pay them on your behalf into the national health fund. When you register for work with your employer the local IKA automatically sends you a passbook entitled iatrico vivliario, which have to take to the doctors, specialist, hospital or dentist every time you go. Expats who retire to Greece from a country belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) will also receive this book, but you will need to go to your local IKA and prove that you are in receipt of a state pension from your native country. If you are not then you need to prove to them that you have no way of affording private healthcare. Along with the passbook, the IKA also provide a list of local doctors and hospitals along with the fees for subsidised healthcare.

Expats from within the EU must prove that they have paid national insurance contributions to their native country's state health fund for two years preceding their emigration to Greece. This will provide them with healthcare cover for a fixed period after which they must register with an employer, set up their own business and pay their own contributions or take out a private health insurance policy. If you qualified for invalidity benefit at home then you may qualify in Greece, but you will need to prove that this was the case by showing all relevant documentation.


All visits to doctors, consultants and hospitals are free if you qualify for state cover as is any treatment given. Prescriptions however are only subsidised and you must pay 25 % of the cost or 10% if you are an old age pensioner. Some medication is classed as non-essential and is not subsidised to the same extent meaning that you have to pay more towards it. The costs for medicines deemed non-essential are much higher. Additionally you have to pay some for the costs for spectacles, dentures and non-essential dentistry, although any essential dentistry is free. Those people, who live in more isolated areas like some of the Greek Islands, may not have a local IKA office, in which case you have to pay for treatment and then make a claim with the nearest IKA. In these instances you must provide all documents and receipts in order for your claim to be processed.

Private Health Care
Many Greeks take out private medical insurance to supplement the part of the part of the state medical covered by the state and if you do not qualify for cover through the state system you must make your own arrangements for private cover and show proof of this when you apply for a residence permit. The private healthcare you choose must also comply with Greek legislation and not all international insurance companies comply even though they may offer an excellent product. BUPA International, AXA, Generali, Vie Assurance, PPP Healthcare, International Health Insurance and Exeter Friendly Society all comply as do the Greek companies Alico AIGlife and Ethniki Asfalistiki.

Higher premiums generally mean better cover and you would be wise to ensure that the policy you take is one that pays any medical bills directly to the IKA or private doctor treating you. Check out the excess as well as many policies require you to pay a certain amount from your own pocket before you can make a claim. If you live on the Greek Islands where healthcare choices are limited, ensure your policy covers you for travel to the mainland - most of the private hospitals are situated in Thessaloniki or Athens and you may need an airlift to get to them if your condition is serious.

Compulsory registration with a doctor is not obligatory, but you must use one from the IKA list in order to qualify for state subsidised treatment. It is also uncommon for doctors to make home visits and these will certainly add to your costs.

Consultants have long waiting lists although you do not need a doctor's referral to see one. If your condition is such that you cannot afford to wait for an appointment from a state consultant you can see one of the specialists working in the private sector, in which case the IKA will pay up to 85 % of the costs.

Existing hospitals are currently undergoing a lot of renewal and renovation. The government is also building new ones and upgrading the accident and emergency departments. A lot of effort is going into setting up mobile medical units as well as providing new high tech medical equipment. State-run hospitals have long wait lists and are over capacity. Those who live in the Greek Islands are usually always transferred to the mainland - usually to Athens - for treatment.

Chemists are called farmak'o in Greek and they are staffed by qualified chemists. They will give basic medical advice for minor ailments and illness. They open for the morning only and are shut at the weekends, although there is always a duty chemist open to provide out of hours cover; the name of each duty chemist is displayed in the window of every pharmacy. Homeopathic medicine is also popular amongst the local population and some pharmacies are specialists in this field.

More information can be found at www.ika.gr.en/english