Last week I had my first trip to the doctor. When you arrive in Norway, you need to pick a general practitioner from the list of doctors with available space. I lucked out and managed to get a doctor at the health clinic on campus where they are known for being really friendly (and comfortable speaking English). For 8 months I had no reason to visit the doctor, but as I get ready to switch over my driver’s license, I needed a “vision certificate” to prove that I can see well enough to drive*.
As with everything “new” here, I was a bit nervous because I had no idea what to expect – Would I have to wait long for an appointment? Could I make an appointment for one thing, but also ask to get a prescription filled? How much was it going to cost me?
So, as I am sure you’ve heard, Norway has universal public health care. Meaning that all residents of Norway are covered under the national health insurance scheme, regardless of employment status or nationality. It isn’t actually “free” as 7.8% of your taxes goes directly into the insurance scheme (I think your employer contributes some amount as well). For each calendar year there is essentially a deducible – once a person pays for 1980kr of health expenses (about $325), you get an exemption card for the remainder of the year, meaning the rest of your health care is covered. And health care for children and prenatal care are free.
For the most part, it isn’t much different from my health insurance experiences in the US because I’ve always been lucky enough to have pretty good health insurance through my jobs and have never had any major health issues. But if you are unemployed, self-employed, or have major health problems, the Norwegian system would take care of you far better than say, the US system…
Despite my nervousness, the appointment went swimmingly and it was nice to get the first visit out of the way. To answer my initial questions, I had to wait about 3 weeks for an appointment – but there was nothing critical about my need to see the doctor; if you are really sick, you can often get in on the same day. I had no problems getting my prescription refilled (the doctor was actually really quick to give me my sleeping pills but my friend joked that was fine because if I got addicted, he’d be the one to treat me?!?) And I paid 241kr/$40 for the appointment and 69kr/$12 for my prescription. I can’t say I am looking forward to the next doctor’s visit, but now I feel like I am one step closer to figuring out how everything works in this country…
*What I find funny about this vision certificate, is that if I didn’t already wear contacts or glasses, I would not have to have my vision checked to prove I could see enough to drive… The doctor had to fill out 4(!!) pages of forms to verify that I could read the bottom line on the eye chart. And I learned that my eyesight isn’t good enough to become a truck driver here in Norway.
And because pictures always make a blog post more fun, here are a few from a hiking trip last weekend. It was warm enough to hike in a t-shirt, but there was a foot of snow at the top of the mountain!