Healthcare in Iceland

Iceland is one of the healthiest countries in the world. It has low pollution, high life expectancy and an extremely low rate of infant mortality. The health service is well organised, progressive and has more doctors per head of population than any other country. There is no private health sector in Iceland and all citizens regardless of status qualify for healthcare under the state healthcare service.

State Healthcare
The health service is controlled and funded by central government, which collects money for the health service from taxation. Every citizen is entitled to some degree of medical cover, despite the size of his or her contribution to the system.

All employers must pay a tax, based on a percentage of wages, to the State Treasury for every employee working for them. All registered foreign nationals, who have been resident in the country for six months are entitled to automatic cover from the state health system. 

State health insurance entitles citizens to hospital treatment and care, emergency medical care, prescription medicine, physiotherapy, ambulance transportation, surgical aids and other medical equipment, dental treatment and maternity care.

Citizens who are temporarily unable to work and are no longer in receipt of their salary are entitled to daily payments of sickness benefit for the duration of their illness or incapacity.  Each person receives the same sum, which is decided by the government.

It is not possible to opt out of the state system. Employees contribute to the system through the payment of income tax, part of which goes to funding the health service.

The government decides the level of fees. Fees are charged for treatment at the health centres and hospital outpatient care. However, there are no fees for inpatient treatment.

Under eighteens get a free yearly dental check-up and if any treatment is necessary, their parents must pay 25 percent of the total cost unless they need more advanced treatment like crowns and orthodontics. In these cases, there is a different fee scale. Old age pensioners, the severely disabled and people with acute illness receive free and/or subsidised dental treatment. All other citizens must pay for their own treatment.

Prescription medicine carries a price tag and prescription drugs fall into one of four categories. You receive a full reimbursement for drugs in the following category. Critical medicine needed for treatment of life-threatening and acute illness like diabetes and cancer.

There is around 75 percent reimbursement for drugs therapeutic significance for well-defined and serious illness like asthma, psoriasis and depression.

Drugs of a less significant therapeutic value like those for arthritis, or hormone treatments for the menopause are only partly reimbursed.

There is no reimbursement for drugs for short-term conditions. Thus, medicine like antibiotics or painkillers must be paid for in full.

Icelandic law dictates that mothers and children must receive free preventive healthcare.

Healthcare Centres
Iceland is split into different healthcare districts and each one is responsible for its healthcare centres, which are called heilsugaeslustod in Icelandic. Some of the centres are run together with the local hospital; they are responsible for general practice, home care, preventative medicine and child healthcare.

Healthcare centres fall into three categories and the category they belong to dictates the number of staff. The first group employs at least two doctors along with nurses and administrative staff. Group two employs one doctor, a nurse, and healthcare centres in the third group employ a nurse or midwife and access to a visiting doctor.

All healthcare centres are visited on a regular basis by opticians, gynaecologists, ear nose and throat specialists and paediatricians.

There are many town-based doctors, but few exist in Iceland’s desolate interior. Each citizen is required to register with a GP. Those who live in the capital, Reykjavík may register with a self-employed family practitioner. In each area, there is a doctor on-call 24 hours a day. Doctors are paid by the government and are effectively salaried workers.

Hospitals are located in major towns and are staffed by highly qualified medical professionals and fall into one if three categories; specialised teaching hospitals, general hospitals and community hospitals. Specialised hospitals provide surgery and care for disease and incapacity of a specific nature. You must have a referral from a doctor to visit hospital unless your case is an emergency.

Emergency Care
Emergency wards are called Slysadeild. All community hospitals have emergency wards, which are manned 24 hours a day. You may be transferred to the National Hospital in the capital if your condition is critical. Several hospitals offer walk-in clinics for non-critical emergency cases, but they are not open 24 hours.

Chemists are called Apótek. Most towns have at least at least one chemist. Drugs are more expensive in Iceland than in neighbouring countries. Any citizen has the right to own or run a pharmacy under Icelandic law, but they must have a contract with a qualified pharmacist who is held responsible for any errors.