Any resident of Italy who contributes towards Italian Social Security will be eligible for largely free public healthcare through Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN). While expats who come from fellow EU countries will be able to take advantage of reciprocal healthcare agreements to register for SSN, those who don’t will need to register at their local health authority (Azienda Sanità Locale) and provide identification which must include an Italian residence card. Once registered, you will then need to choose a family doctor and, typically, this will be the person who you will continue to see from that point on. Therefore, if they don’t have any free time to see you, booking an appointment for a consultation can take longer then you may hope.
While visits to see your doctor are usually free once you are registered for SSN and you can attend any hospital in the country without charge, you may find that there will be some costs for things such as prescription drugs and long stays in hospitals (especially if you want your own room) – although these costs will still be subsidised. It’s important to note that while SSN is organised nationally under the country’s Ministry of Health, it is actually administered on a regional basis, so the type of healthcare you are entitled to and the standard of this care will vary drastically from region to region.
The standards of the medical professionals who work in the Italian public health sector actually tend to be fairly high, due to the fact that some public healthcare facilities are of quite a low standard – particularly in the south, although even some northern hospitals and other medical practices are below the standard that many expats from western nations will be used to – and waiting lists for treatments and doctor visits can be extremely long, there is quite a demand for private healthcare in Italy (especially among expats). For this you will need to take out some form of private health insurance (which will be mandatory for all non-EU expats until they receive their residence permit and enrol in the SSN).
While, if you are employed, your employer will probably be prepared to pay towards – and quite often fully pay – your private health insurance for you, this will still only cover some of the costs associated with ‘going private’. In the private sector, the Ministry of Health sets a minimum charge for most operations and this can lead to utilising private health facilities and treatments becoming fairly expensive. On the plus side, though, Italian private healthcare is recognised as being of an extremely high standard and most private facilities are considered to be state of the art. You will also be able to choose your own doctor or specialist and be treated at any private hospital in the country, so will be able to avoid the long waits which currently burden the public health system.