The national health service of Italy, Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), was established in 1978 with the aim of creating an efficient and uniform health system for everyone. The SSN provides free or low-cost health care for all residents and their families, university students and retirees. This service is extended to citizens of all EU countries. Emergency care is given to visitors, irrespective of their nationality.
Retired EU nationals, who plan to live permanently in Italy, need form E121. EU citizens who retire before qualifying for a state pension can receive free health cover for two years by obtaining form E106. Should this temporary cover expire before reaching retirement age, two options are available: Either, you can make voluntary social security contributions, or take out private health insurance. All non-EU nationals must have private health insurance.
Public and private hospital facilities in Italy vary greatly, although it is generally considered that there is little difference in the quality of medical treatment. Hospitals in the north and central parts of Italy are generally considered to be better than those in the south. In some regions, if a hospital cannot offer treatment within a reasonable period, patients may be referred to a private clinic without having to pay extra fees. The system is overloaded and it is worthwhile considering private health insurance for hospital care only.
Medicines and some dental facilities are also covered by the national health. According to your status it will either be free or you will pay 75% of the cost.
An important issue to consider is that if you are not entitled to national insurance, you will be expected to pay for treatment in advance even if you have private insurance so you will need to go to the hospital or clinic with plenty of money in your pocket. Some health insurance companies, particularly foreign ones, have agreements with certain clinics and hospitals, in which case you will be covered immediately.
Doctors’ surgery hours vary, although most surgeries are open from 08.00 to 10.00 hrs and from 15.00 to 17.00 hrs Mondays to Fridays only. In smaller towns there is often only one surgery open, usually from 08.00 to 13.00 hrs.
An Italian pharmacist (farmacia) is well qualified to give you advice on minor ailments and to dispense prescriptions (most speak good English too) and there is generally one open all night in the bigger towns and cities. A rota system operates, and you should find the address of the one currently open on any farmacia door or listed in the local paper.
Although opening times may vary, generally they are from 08.30 until 12.30 hrs and from 15.30 to 19.30 hrs.
It is also a good idea to ask your doctor to give you the generic names of any drugs you are taking. This will help the pharmacist to find the equivalent in Italy.