What to know about changes to free Covid testing in Switzerland

From January 2023, people in Switzerland will generally have to pay for Covid-19 tests. Here's a look at the changes.

People queue at a Covid test center installed in a street of Swiss capital Bern on September 17, 2021.
People queue at a Covid test center installed in a street of Swiss capital Bern on September 17, 2021. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

What’s happening?

The Swiss Parliament says that from January 1st 2023, the costs of Covid-19 tests will no longer be paid for by the government. 

It means that anyone who wants a Covid test will have to pay for it themselves. 

However, Covid-19 tests ordered by a doctor will be met by health insurance costs “provided the test is required to determine any further medical action,” the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) said in a statement.

“Such costs will also, however, be subject to the insurance’s deductible and copayment provisions,” said the FOPH. The test result has no influence on the reimbursement.

Why are the rules changing?

Since the early days of the pandemic, the Swiss government has been covering the cost of Covid tests – at least most of the time.

But testing is expensive – the government spent 2.1 billion francs on tests in 2021, and 1.6 billion this year up to the start of December.

“The continuation of reimbursement for tests that benefit public health would have cost around CHF 100 million in the 1st quarter of 2023, according to estimates by the FOPH, based on a 20 to 30 percent higher test volume than in the past weeks,” the FOPH says.

However, keeping tests free of charge could also lead to additional costs in other areas – such as a potentially greater burden on doctors’ practices and hospitals, the FOPH said.

What’s the reaction?

For infection specialist Jan Fehr, the end of free testing is happening at a bad time.

At the moment, it is difficult to keep track of which respiratory tract infections are having a significant burden on the health system with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and Covid all circulating at the same time, he told Swiss broadcaster SRF.

“Charging for corona tests from January will lead to even fewer people getting tested and is currently incomprehensible from an epidemiological point of view,” said Fehr.

Santésuisse, the industry association of Swiss health insurers, urged the state to take over the costs of tests again if the Covid situation worsens in future. 

What else should I know?

According to the FOPH, Covid tests are possible in the same facilities as before, such as doctors’ surgeries, pharmacies, hospitals, retirement and nursing homes, as well as in test centres.

Despite tests not being free of charge unless a doctor has ordered them, vaccinations against Covid-19 will continue to be free for people in Switzerland in 2023.

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Why do so many foreign doctors practice in Switzerland?

Slightly more than 40 percent of medical professionals working in Switzerland are of foreign origin, and their numbers are growing. What is the reason for this upward trend?

Why do so many foreign doctors practice in Switzerland?

In 2023, there were 16,590 foreign physicians working in Switzerland, according to a press release published by the Swiss Medical Association (FMH) on Wednesday.

While that in itself may not seem like a huge number, it constitutes 40.4 percent of the physicians practicing in Switzerland.

And this figure is not static: it has grown from ‘only’ 9,756 a decade ago.

Why has this been happening?

At least part of the answer lies in the general shortage of qualified personnel that has been plaguing many sectors of Switzerland’s economy — including healthcare.

“This increased need to call on foreign specialised personnel reminds us that there are not enough doctors trained in Switzerland to cover needs,” the FMH said.

Medical experts have been sounding the alarm about this scarcity.

According to FMH’s president Yvonne Gilli, Switzerland is training too few doctors, which will create a “healthcare gap” and have dire consequences in the near future, especially since more people are living longer and are developing chronic illnesses.

READ ALSO : Why Switzerland faces dire problem of doctor shortages 

Where is Switzerland recruiting doctors from?

Germany is by far the country that ‘exports’ the most doctors to Switzerland, (50.2 percent).

Italy comes next with 9.5 percent, followed by France (7.1 percent) and Austria (6 percent).

The reason for this is simple and pragmatic at the same time: these physicians not only speak one of the national languages, but they are also EU nationals, which means they can work in Switzerland with no problem.

That’s because the agreement on the free movement of people allows the recognition of diplomas from EU and EFTA states, though doctors coming from those countries must still obtain an authorisation to practice in Switzerland.

Are Swiss doctors required to speak English?

Most physicians working in Switzerland have some level of English proficiency, ranging from basic to fluent because much of medical literature, as well as some exams, are in English only.

However, the only official requirement set by both the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and the FMH is that doctors practicing in Switzerland must speak the language of the canton in which they work (which is why physicians from Germany, Italy, France, and Austria are recruited) . 

Nowhere in the official requirements list, however, is there any mention of the obligation to be proficient in English in order to be able to practice medicine in Switzerland.

READ ALSO : Do all doctors in Switzerland have to speak English? 

And if you are new in Switzerland and are looking for a physician, this article will provide useful information:

READ ALSO: What you should know about finding a doctor in Switzerland