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Healthcare in Sweden

Health Insurance and the Healthcare System of Sweden Explained

Everyone in Sweden is entitled to healthcare, even nonresidents. Sweden’s healthcare system is regarded so highly that many countries worldwide have used it as a model for their own healthcare scheme.

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The healthcare system and health insurance in Sweden are some of the best in the world. Year after year this Nordic country ranks in the Top 10 listing of Best Healthcare Systems around the globe. These rankings are typically based on a country’s healthcare efficiency, cost, and life expectancy.

In past years, one of the few complaints the Swedish healthcare system has received is the wait time to see a doctor. Upon hearing this complaint, the country has taken strides to rectify this problem. Nowadays, once you find a doctor you should be seen in three to seven days depending on your needs.

If you are thinking about moving to Sweden, use this guide as an overview of Sweden’s healthcare system. We will discuss whether or not you can receive public medical care without a personnumer (in English: “personal number”) as well as the advantages of private health insurance and giving birth in Sweden.

How Healthcare Works in Sweden

This section will explain Sweden’s healthcare system. The healthcare system in Sweden is largely decentralized. Although the national government dictates the overall policy, it is the regional level (the kommun or municipality) that has the greatest influence. Headed by county council officials who are elected every four years, the municipality oversees the healthcare and health services of their specific region. This way, each county can tailor its needs to its specific population as well as provide individualized attention at the local level. County councils are also specifically charged with overseeing the hospital structure and management within its district, as well as regulating the prices and service quality of private providers. In total, there are about 20 county councils throughout Sweden that regulate nearly 300 municipalities.

At the local level, municipalities provide care for disabled and elderly patients once they have been released from the hospital. Municipalities are also charged with the care of psychiatric patients.

To continually monitor how the healthcare in Sweden works, the country has produced a yearly National Patient Survey since 2009. This survey takes into consideration patients’ view of the care they receive as well as their path to recovery. The survey is divided into categories such as cancer care, primary care, and child and adult psychiatric care. The results from this survey are used to evaluate and manage healthcare throughout the country.

If you plan to stay in Sweden for a year or more, you will need to get a personnummer, a Swedish tax identification number. You will need this number in order to access the public health scheme. If you are only staying in Sweden short-term and do not have a personnummer, you will need to acquire private health insurance. Read our Working in Sweden section for how you can obtain a personnummer.

If you are from an EU/EEA country, you should register for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before coming to Sweden. This card grants you access to healthcare for the same cost as a citizen.

Sweden Healthcare Facts

  • As of 2019, municipalities cover dental care costs for residents under the age of 23.
  • Seventy percent of healthcare services are funded through local government taxes.
  • Sweden has one of the oldest populations in Europe. It is estimated that one in every five people in Sweden is over 65.

Does Sweden Have Free Public Healthcare?

If you are wondering why healthcare costs in Sweden are so expensive, you are probably thinking of Switzerland. Healthcare in Sweden is not free, but it is also not expensive. In fact, when compared with other European countries, Swedish healthcare costs are quite reasonable.

Visits for basic healthcare typically cost between 110 to 220 SEK (10–20 USD) depending on your county. Specialist appointments can go up to 400 SEK (40 USD). Hospital stays are about 120 SEK per day for the first ten days, and half that for anything longer. Additionally, medical care for those under 20 years of age is free.

The Swedish government makes concessions for people who require frequent healthcare. The government sets a yearly cap for out-of-pocket fees at around 1,000 SEK (100 USD). Anything exceeding this amount is covered by the Swedish government. This also applies to prescription medication, which is capped at around 2,250 SEK (230 USD).

What Does the Public Healthcare Cover?

Public healthcare in Sweden covers the basic medical needs:

  • hospitalization
  • basic outpatient services
  • prescription medication
  • dental care (for those under 20 years old)
  • preventative services
  • handicapped support
  • rehabilitation services
  • home-based nurses and transport facilities for those in need

Swedish Healthcare System Pros and Cons

While there are many pros to the healthcare system in Sweden, one of the few cons is wait times. Depending on your specific medical case, wait times can range from three to 90 days. Urgent cases are seen quickly, but non-urgent patients can wait a full week just to get an appointment. Wait times to see a specialist can take up to three months. Although Sweden’s public healthcare system is affordable and of high quality, the wait times are some of the reasons locals decide to buy into private insurance.

Private healthcare is still not that common in Sweden, but recent years have seen an increased use. It is estimated that one out of every ten people in Sweden uses private health insurance.

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An Overview of Private Health Insurance

Given the country’s reputation for high quality public healthcare, you may be wondering why you need to know how private health insurance works in Sweden. Although Sweden’s healthcare system is used as a precedent for other countries to model their own healthcare system, there are a few reasons expats may want to look into private health insurance.

Wait Times

When comparing private and public health insurance in Sweden one of the biggest differences is the wait times. With public healthcare, non-urgent cases can wait a week to three months for an appointment. Some even have to tack on extra waiting time to make the appointment in the first place. Urgent cases are usually seen within a few days, yet news stories still abound of people dying while waiting to be treated. With private insurance, patients can be seen swiftly and will even have a greater choice of appointment times.

Doctors and Hospitals

The care you will receive at a public versus private hospital is barely distinguishable. However, some doctors and hospitals are only available to those with private insurance. Advantages to going to a private hospital include being able to see a specialist. You will also have the ability to choose your own practitioner rather than having to settle with whoever the public health scheme prescribes.

Expats also often prefer private insurance over public so that they can more easily guarantee a doctor who speaks their language.

Supplementing Costs

If you know you will need expensive medical procedures while in Sweden, it may be worth looking into private insurance. Public health insurance has a capped amount of what residents are expected to spend, but private insurance can still help offset some of those costs.

Do You Need Health Insurance in Sweden?

It is not illegal to be in Sweden without health insurance coverage. However, in order to receive care via public health insurance, you will need a personnummer. If you do not yet have a personnummer, you must buy private insurance.

Types of Health Insurance Plans

While the exact type of health insurance plan you receive will depend on the insurance company you choose, on average you will be presented with four different levels:

  • Basic: Covers the basic health needs such as check-ups, medicine, preventative care, and various unexpected expenses.
  • Essential: Covers a little extra than the basic plan. This plan will typically cost more, but will cover a greater variety of appointment types and surgeries.
  • Comprehensive: This includes out-patient treatment.
  • Premium: This plan typically covers all basic medical needs, out-patient treatment, and international travel insurance.

Add-ons like eye and dental care may not be included in all plans. If this is something you need, be sure to check whether the provider you choose lists it as an option.

Average Health Insurance Cost in Sweden

Costs for private health insurance varies from provider to provider, as well as plan to plan, but on average you can expect to pay about 4,000 SEK per year (400 USD).

Keep in mind that even private healthcare in Sweden is heavily regulated by the government, and some private insurers are even supported by the government. This means that even private insurance will not be exorbitantly expensive.

How to Find a Doctor or Dentist

How to find a doctor or dentist in Sweden is dependent on your medical needs and health insurance. If you are very sick, you should go to a hospital. Swedish emergency rooms (akutmottagningar) are some of the best in the world, and they are well equipped to handle every type of emergency. If you are in a remote area of Sweden, and unable to reach a hospital, call 112 and request an ambulance. Air ambulances operate in hard-to-reach areas of the Scandinavian country.

If this is a non-emergency, you can go to a regular clinic (vårdcentraler), which are found in every Swedish city and town. These are funded by the government and accept public or private healthcare insurance.

In some of the big Swedish cities, such as Stockholm and Gothenburg, you can find special ‘drop-in’ clinics. These clinics are best if you need to see a doctor immediately, but for a non-emergency situation. These clinics also run outside of normal business hours for those who may need to be seen in the evening. However, be prepared for a long wait.

How to Find Specialists

To see a specialist in Sweden, you will need a referral from a general practitioner. This is where Sweden’s long wait times can get really infuriating as residents need to wait to see a GP and then wait to see the specialist. If using public health insurance, the average wait time to see a doctor in Sweden can be anywhere from one week to three months. If using private insurance, you may be able to see someone within a day or two, if not sooner.

Online Resources

If you need to know how to find a family doctor or how to find a dentist, use these online databases:

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Giving Birth in Sweden

Whether you are a resident or non-resident, Sweden is one of the best countries in which to give birth. The country has one of the lowest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. If you are not a Swedish citizen, nor do you have a residency permit, the birth will be very expensive.

Midwives

In Sweden, the primary providers of pre-natal and post-natal care are midwives (barnmorskors). Although in many western countries, midwifery is not a common pre/post-natal option, in Sweden midwife-based care is considered the best option. Expectant mothers will only see a doctor if there is a complication during the pregnancy or if there is a need for anesthesia during childbirth.

In addition to the midwives, what may also surprise expats is that pregnant women in Sweden are not required to undergo numerous tests or hospital visits before giving birth. Maternity care mostly consists of a few blood tests to make sure the iron levels are within normal range. 

Cost of Having a Baby in Sweden

It is essential to have Swedish residency when giving birth in Sweden as private pre-natal care is generally not available. This means you will need to use the public health insurance, which you can only do if you have a personnummer.

If you give birth in Sweden without health insurance, bills can add up to around 65,000 SEK (6,600 USD). Antenatal care may include a daily charge of approximately 100 SEK (13 USD).

Giving Birth in Sweden for Citizenship

Having a baby in Sweden as a foreigner always leads to the question of citizenship. Children born in Sweden to non-Swedish parents receive the same citizenship as their parents. If one of the parents of the child is Swedish, then the child will be considered a citizen at birth. The child will automatically be given a personnummer and the parent must then register the child’s name with the Swedish Tax Agency. Be aware that the tax agency does have the power to deny a name, although this only happens in rare cases with names that are seen as not in the best interest of the child (such as Sickboy or Dotcom).

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Updated on: October 14, 2019
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