Time to kick off the blog for 2019!
For those who are unaware, I am originally Australian (well, I still am!), but moved to Bergen three years ago. So, that’s sort of why the title says my first experience with Norway’s medical system – I never grew up with it, and I’ve always been a little wary of visiting doctors. However, after flying back from Australia in January, I managed to get a lovely ear infection, where half of my face was in absolute agony. After suffering through New Years Day, I went to a doctor on the 2nd of January and got it all fixed. But, for someone who had only ever read about Norway’s medical system, it was interesting to actually experience it.
Free(ish) healthcare for all!
Norway (and the Nordic countries) are famous for their free public healthcare system, which is funded as part of the national budget. And this is sort of true.
Medical treatment is free for anyone under the age of sixteen, pregnant or nursing women, but adults must pay a deductible every year before being eligible for an exemption card. This deductible is 2040 NOK, or about $246 USD. If you need special treatment, like physiotherapy, that’s an additional deductible. But if you visit your general doctor (GP) throughout the year, that counts as a normal deductible. Public GP’s cost about 200 NOK – 300 NOK per visit. (Here’s a pretty good overview of what costs what). They are so cheap because the government does cover some of it, but still expect you to pay a little bit.
Everyone in Norway is assigned a public GP, and you can view your medical history, past appointments, GP, or get a new GP online. All of them have a rating and their specialities online.
However, if you need to go to the emergency room, all immediate healthcare costs are covered. If Norwegian hospitals can’t treat you, they’ll send you abroad for free.
My experience with the healthcare system
So, above is my quick overview of the healthcare system. Now, as I said, I had an ear infection at the start of January, and got to experience how this healthcare system operates.
On the 1st of January (New Years Day), I went online to see if my public GP was available, but she was unavailable for over a week. The public system is known to have long waiting times – my husband went to his public GP in October about a skin condition, got referred to a dermatologist, but isn’t seeing them until the end of January.
Now, I could’ve gone to the emergency room, but being a little scared of doctor visits, I felt it was a bit too dramatic for a silly old ear infection. So, my husband looked up private GP’s. Sure enough, one was available the following morning.
The doctor was fantastic, funny, and diagnosed my ear infection within minutes. I got it looked at on the 2nd of January, was prescribed antibiotic ear drops, and sent home. All prescriptions are handled through the same online system I mentioned above, so I was able to go down to a pharmacy, tell them my social security number, and get my ear drops (for 135 NOK – about $18). I also booked a follow-up appointment with the private GP.
Then the bill came.
1105 NOK (almost $175 USD) for a 10-minute consultation with a private GP. I was shocked, and still kind of am, but am also mostly relieved I could get my ear looked at. Oh, and this doesn’t count as the yearly deductible.
For my follow-up appointment, the private GP looked at my ear for a couple of minutes, said it was getting better, prescribed some more ear drops, and sent me on my way. I was in there for less than three minutes. A couple days later, I got another bill. For 1105 NOK. Now I was shocked – I was barely in there!
Total cost for two visits with a private doctor over an ear infection: 2210 NOK ($250 USD).
Don’t get me wrong, the private system is fantastic and I was treated right away. As my husband said, we had no other choice. It was just going to keep on getting worse if I waited. Back home in Australia, I’d pay about $80 USD to see a GP over the same issue, so the Norwegian option took me by surprise.
So perhaps the real problem isn’t with the private system, but the public one. If I have an issue that needs to be seen right away, shouldn’t my assigned public GP be ready to see me? Norway’s public healthcare system is undoubtedly great – universal healthcare for all should be a right – but, as in most countries with universal healthcare, the wait times are crushing its efficiency.