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Clara Haynes: Simplifying German Health Insurance

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Moving to Germany from the United States is one thing, being prepared for everything is another. But even those who are unaware of health insurance requirements will find a good solution. Clara Haynes did.

Clara Haynes from New York state always wanted to get to know Germany, her mother’s birth country. Once she got to Berlin, after short stays in Paris and Amsterdam, she was mesmerized. As a passionate photographer, she sees cities from two perspectives.

Clara’s Artist Visa

Before she embarked on her European trip, people had told her it would be impossible to find an apartment or a room in Berlin, but she did within two weeks. Her business as an IT specialist picked up speed. Everything was great, but there was one hurdle to take: her visa.

Clara knew she needed an address with a registration in order to obtain a visa. In German, what she needed was an “Aufenthaltserlaubnis für selbständige Tätigkeit”. She wondered why the Germans use such long words. But she had the address, and proving that she earned enough money to support herself would not be a problem either. Some bank statements would be sufficient here.

Before coming to Europe, she had already contacted a few companies, including startups, for the letters of intent she needed for the freelancer visa. She ended up with three of those. The fourth required item, the health insurance, would be fine, she thought. It wasn’t. Today she is insured with ottonova, but getting there was harder than anticipated, simply because this was the part she had not been prepared for.

Insurance Insufficient

Back then, she headed to Berlin’s immigration authority, the ‘Landesamt für Einwanderung’ by ‘S-Bahn’ train. She had to walk around a heat and power station on a weird-looking street. In the end, she just followed some folks who looked like they were on their way to the same place.

Clara did feel quite confident when she finally arrived at the ‘Landesamt’. There was nothing they really could have faulted, she believed. When she was called to a clerk after a 20-minute wait, she was pretty sure of herself. Indeed, she had almost every reason to feel that way.

What she learned was that the kind of health insurance makes a big difference in Germany. Everyone in this country must have health insurance, with a provider that offers at least the minimum level of coverage. There are also public and private health insurance companies, each have many kinds of insurance some of which are not mandatory. And there are many different tariffs. As it turned out, the travel health insurance she had purchased in New York state was insufficient.

Clara traded New York state for Berlin. Photo: ottonova

The Real Thing

The clerk explained to her, that the authority was much stricter now, than it had been before the Coronavirus had hit. On that day, all Corona patients in Germany were still far away from Berlin, in southern Bavaria. But the immigration office workers had been instructed to check health insurances instead of just telling visa applicants to get one. Back then, they just relied on the visa holders. Because of the Coronavirus, things now became stricter.

And the moral of the story is that, especially in Germany, health insurances are a matter to investigate thoroughly. As a tourist in Paris and Amsterdam, Clara had been covered with that old insurance from New York. The minute she rented a place in Berlin and registered, she officially lived there and needed a proper health insurance by law.

At this early stage of her Berlin stay, she knew expatriates only, and everyone she asked gave her some advice. Only one of them, Jesús from Veracruz, actually knew what he was talking about. He said, there were two choices in Germany, namely public or private health insurance. For employees, things were less complicated, he explained. He mentioned ottonova, a health insurance that simplifies things and has support 24/7 in English.

Complicated System

Now Clara Haynes knew the basics, but still had no clue what she was supposed to do, also because the next morning she had forgotten the name of the insurance Jesús had mentioned. What insurance could she call in Germany, especially without really speaking the language?

“Guten Tag” or “Einen Kaffee bitte” was not enough. She was not in the Netherlands anymore, where absolutely everyone speaks English like a pro. What she found out was that the German health system was good, possibly better than the one in the U.S., but definitely more complicated.

Piece of Cake

Those who are publicly insured do not get as many services covered as people with private health insurance policies. Clara found out there are doctors in Germany who do not even accept patients with public insurances and that those who do often do not have appointments for several weeks. At the same time, she learned that only those that earn more than 62,550 Euro per year are eligible to get a private insurance.

Another aspect is the fees. Clara was surprised how high they were, but calmed down when she learned that young insurance holders pay far less than older ones, especially with private insurers. The more research she did, the more tangled she got in terms. She already knew the main information. All the percentage raises and fees were really hard to understand. Besides, none of the info about those was provided in English.

Clara picked ottonova. Photo: ottonova

Then she finally ran into ottonova again. This time she saw one of their ads on Facebook which highlighted their helpful support in English, and the moment she contacted them she knew they had not exaggerated. They were helpful. So, when Clara walked around the power station again, in order to get to Berlin’s immigration office, she was the proud holder of an ottonova health insurance. Getting the visa was a piece of cake now.

Her new insurance, ottonova, offers guided consultations during which they inform the person about the details of the German health insurance system. Also they clarify the benefits and drawbacks of private health insurance policies, specifically for the individual they are communicating with. This was the part Clara liked most, as this kind of approach enabled her to take an informed decision.

No Limits Regarding Doctors

Today, a few months later, Clara from New York state does not regret her decision, because she can always get the medical treatment she needs. She has the ottonova app which gives her valuable advice. For instance it reminds her of prevention care appointments it would be good to have. She can always call, ask them to find a doctor and set up an appointment, when she has no time to do it herself.

The support team also gives advice on staying healthy. Clara Haynes is not limited what her choice of doctors is concerned. ottonova can find an English-speaking doctor, if Clara does not feel like practicing German medical terms that day.

Because it took Clara a while to find the right solution, her advice is to deal with the health insurance issue early on. ottonova is the insurance she recommends to people who are eligible. Germany might be complicated in some ways, but not for ottonova customers. They do support people with just about everything they can.

Interested in health insurance options for expatriates in Germany? Check out ottonova.