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Healthcare in San Francisco

Many expats dream of living in San Francisco, intrigued by its liberal spirit and welcoming atmosphere. Still, life in San Francisco has its ups and downs. Read all about San Francisco in our InterNations guide, and learn about education, health, and the much-dreaded apartment hunt.
Good health is key to enjoying your life in San Francisco.

Although high-quality healthcare services are available almost anywhere in the US, many treatments are unaffordable to a lot of people. The 2010 Affordable Care Act, however, has aimed to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for the less fortunate. At the time of writing (September 2016), 16.4 million uninsured people have gained health coverage.

Nevertheless, the United States remains the only developed nation that does not offer any comprehensive national healthcare plan to its residents. A few public health insurance options are, however, available in the form of Medicare for pensioners and Medicaid for minimum wage earners and other people with very low incomes.

Getting Health Insurance through Your Employer

If you move to San Francisco for work, you can usually receive health coverage under your employer’s group insurance plans. Most companies allow these policies to be extended to cover your dependent family members as well. Since your employer covers a part of your health costs, this is most of the time the cheapest option. Nonetheless, there is a downside: if you lose your job, you often also lose your health coverage. The COBRA Act of 1985 ensures, however, that you can keep the insurance until 18 months after you have lost your job, but usually at higher costs.

Normally, a variety of different plans are available. Usually, the higher your monthly contributions are, the lower are your costs for medical treatment. However, keep in mind that virtually no insurance plan provides 100% coverage. Visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for more advice.

Where to Find Medical Services in San Francisco

There are a lot of public and private hospitals throughout San Francisco and the entire Bay Area. While treatment is usually easier to afford at public hospitals, the facilities and services are typically more sophisticated at private hospitals. Of course, they are also a lot more expensive and your insurance may not cover all their services. University clinics are usually quite well equipped, so it would not be a bad idea to try to find a public hospital that is affiliated with a university.

Note that costs for emergency treatments may have to be settled right away if your condition isn’t considered a true emergency. For basic care, walk-in clinics aren’t a bad alternative to hospitals. Although they operate on a first-come, first-served basis, they are much cheaper and quite popular among those who are a bit strapped for cash.

HCSO & Healthy San Francisco

The San Francisco Health Care Security Ordinance (HCSO) requires large and medium-sized employers to spend certain amounts on providing healthcare for their employees. You can refer to the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE) for a chart of healthcare expenditure rates in relation to the size of the company.

Employers can choose to contribute to the “City Option,” through which employees will be granted free or discounted access to the Healthy San Francisco program. This program was established to offer affordable healthcare to people without health insurance. However, since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014, the HSF program has seen a rapid and continuous decline in enrollment due to patients transitioning to new options.

While Healthy San Francisco is technically not a health insurance plan, it does provide basic care. Also, you will be limited to a small network of local healthcare providers. As such, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider taking out health insurance on your own if your employer does not offer you anything besides this program. Most well-qualified expats in San Francisco should be able to afford a private healthcare policy.

Further Information: The Department of Public Health

Expats living in San Francisco would be wise to consult the California Department of Public Health for even more information on healthcare, such as medical services throughout the state. Their website generally offers information on a host of different healthcare providers, one of which is the San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.

The Department of Public Health can also refer you to an open clinic or specialist care facilities. However, if you are in need of medical care, it can also pay off to consult your friends and co-workers for recommendations. Also, do not hesitate to contact your insurance provider if you have further questions.

The health of you and your family is an important topic while you are abroad. Read our articles on Health and Insurance in the USA for more information on visiting a doctor or dentist, finding the right health insurance plan, giving birth, hospital visits, and more.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Raul Gonzales

"Thanks to InterNations, I quickly found useful tips of where to search for a flat. And I met great global minds at the same time."

Li Wang

"As I already connected with several Chinese women before moving to San Francisco, I quickly felt at home here."

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