If you don’t have a job, you have a number of other health insurance options in Italy. These include paying for public care, paying for private care, or taking out traveler’s health insurance at home before you leave. The last option is the best way to get started, as well as the obvious choice for those who plan to stay only a few months. Many U.S. health insurance companies offer plans with the following services: nonemergency and emergency medical expenses, medical evacuation, and prescription drugs. (They also include repatriation of remains, given the worst-case scenario.) But travel insurance policies are usually only good for up to six consecutive months or multiple shorter trips. The other disadvantage of this approach is that you will have to pay up front for any medical expenses incurred in Italy. You could be stuck holding the debt for seven or eight months before the company pays you back.
Many people who do not have a regular job, and therefore do not contribute to the SSN, can take out an insurance policy with the public health system. Present your stay permit at the local ASL office, and pay a set fee of about â‚¬300. The catch is that you need to have some sort of proof of health insurance to qualify for the stay permit in the first place. You will not be issued one without insurance. A temporary policy from the U.S. will do the trick.
Alternatively, you can enroll in a private plan. These start at about â‚¬1,000 annually, available at any major Italian insurance company. One advantage is that you have your choice of clinics, an important consideration for those who suffer from a chronic illness. But bear in mind that even the public system goes a long way. Many of my friends who have both health insurance in the United States and public coverage in Italy (through their jobs) prefer to have some operations done on the Old Continent. Laser surgery to correct your vision, for example, can be expensive in the United States, because many insurance policies will not cover such elective procedures. That is not necessarily the case in Italy. And although that kind of corrective surgery can be hit-or-miss, my friends, at least, had positive results”for free.
TAKING YOUR CHANCES Of course, your last option is to take your chances and not hold any medical insurance at all. Note that Medicare will cover only a very small fraction of your hospital costs abroad, if at all. Also remember that this hands-off approach will pose a problem when you apply for your long-stay permit.