Switching health insurance provider

People with statutory health insurance are entitled to freely choose and switch their health insurance provider. Discover when it makes sense to switch health insurance provider and which formalities and deadlines you have to observe.

At a glance

  • People with statutory health insurance have the right to freely select their health insurance provider with effect from their 16th birthday.
  • A membership application to the new provider suffices. The health insurance providers will arrange the switch between them.
  • A two-month notice period applies. The time it takes to switch health insurance providers can be extended due to commitment periods.
  • Special termination periods, legal provisions and hardship clauses can affect these periods.
  • Switches should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Independent advice centers can provide support in this regard.
  • It is only possible to switch between private and statutory health insurance under certain circumstances.
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Can I switch health insurance provider?

If you are covered by statutory health insurance, you have the right to choose your provider.  
This means that you are entitled to freely choose your health insurance provider and switch to a different statutory health insurance provider. This applies to everyone with statutory health insurance as of their 16th birthday.

People with statutory health insurance have the right to freely select their health insurance provider with effect from their 16th birthday.

You can choose any of the about 100 health insurance providers in Germany providing they are not associated with a specific place of residence or work, or employment in a specific company.  
If you are a member of the health insurance provider for farmers, you do not have the right to choose as this is a compulsory insurance for this profession.

A list of all health insurance providers together with their areas of coverage and supplemental contribution rates can be obtained from the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Funds (GKV-Spitzenverband).

The selected health insurance provider is obliged to accept you – regardless of your age, gender or health. It is also prohibited from preventing or hindering the membership by providing false or incomplete advice.

It is possible to switch between private and statutory health insurance, but only under certain circumstances. Decisive factors include the insured person’s social security status, salary and age.

Why should I switch health insurance provider?

All statutory health insurance providers largely offer the same services. They are legally obliged to do this. These include medically justified services such as doctor’s appointments and hospital stays, for example.

However, there are differences between the providers with regard to:

  • Supplemental contribution rate: health insurance providers charge a supplemental contribution on top of the base contribution rate for statutory health insurance. The health insurance providers individually set the contribution rate and can adjust it at any time.
  • Voluntary benefits: some health insurance providers voluntarily cover the cost of certain benefits – such as special therapies, alternative treatments and travel vaccinations – or subsidize health courses. The specific benefits are detailed in the health insurance providers’ statutes.
  • Service features: health insurance providers have different opening hours, contact options and digital tools that they provide their members.
  • Bonus programs: some health insurance providers offer programs aimed to promote health-conscious behavior, for example. These are often associated with incentives such as financial bonuses or bonuses in kind.
  • Optional tariffs: health insurance providers offer different optional tariffs that provide cover for individual needs or are associated with premiums. They can be opted for voluntarily and have a term of one or three years. 
Certain healthcare services such as the general practitioner tariff (“Hausarzttarif”) are offered by all health insurance providers.

How can I find the right health insurance provider for me?

If you want to switch health insurance provider, you should consider what is important to you when it comes to healthcare.

If you want to save money, choose a provider with a low supplementary contribution. However, it is worth noting the precise service package and any interesting benefits.

Important questions include:

  • How would you like to contact your health insurance provider? If you prefer to deal with things in person, a widespread network of offices with long opening hours can be important. If you prefer to deal with everything from home and want to go paperless, apps and digital contact options can make sense.
  • Who offers the best advice?
  • Which benefits and services are important to you? 
If you are interested in optional tariffs, additional benefits or bonus and treatment programs, it is worth taking a closer look at what is right for your needs.
  • Do these services justify the health insurance provider potentially having a higher supplementary contribution rate? Does a cheaper health insurance provider offer the same benefits and service?

The German consumer organization Stiftung Warentest regularly compares and provides information about services and benefits from health insurance providers.

Important: Certain benefits have to be reapplied for after switching health insurance provider.

These include:

  • Medical treatments: certain treatments must be approved by the health insurance provider before they start. If a benefit has been approved by the old provider but not yet started, you have to submit a new application to the new provider. The new health insurance provider must be informed about current treatments. It will usually cover the costs.
  • Re­sources: any loaned resources often have to be returned to the previous health insurance provider or medical store and be reapplied for with the new provider. The insured person will generally receive an equiv­alent replacement.
  • Medication: it is also possible that different but equiv­alent medication will be reimbursed after switching provider.

How can I switch health insurance provider?

Switching is easy: simply send a membership application to the health insurance provider of your choice. You do not need to provide a written notice of termination. The health insurance providers will deal with all the formalities between themselves without you having to do anything.

A membership application to the new health insurance provider suffices. You do not need to provide a written notice of termination.

You only have to provide notice if you are leaving the statutory health insurance system, for example to switch to a private health insurance provider or because you are permanently moving abroad.

The notice period is two months to the end of any month. The period is not based on the date of your membership application but when the new health insurance provider reports your application to your current provider.

For example: your new health insurance provider notifies your current provider on March 17 that you have submitted a membership application. You will become a member of the newly selected health insurance provider on June 1 of the same year. Health insurance providers also say that you have “exercised your right to choose”.

Important: You must notify your employer, the Federal Employment Agency (Agentur für Arbeit), the job center or any other notifiable body about the change of health insurance provider within two weeks.

Commitment periods

Once you have chosen a health insurance provider, you are bound to it for at least 12 months. This is known as the “commitment period”. You can only switch provider once this period has expired.

Example: you send the new provider a membership application on March 17. If the commitment period with your current health insurance provider applies until July 31 of the same year, you can switch to the new provider as of August 1.

If you have also agreed on an optional tariff, additional commitment periods apply.

Commitment periods with optional tariffs:

  • 1-year minimum commitment period: tariffs for special therapy types or the reimbursement of contributions and costs
  • 3-year minimum commitment period: deductible and sickness benefit tariffs
  • no commitment period: optional tariffs for special types of care, for example general practitioner models or treatment programs for people with chronic health conditions

If you do not cancel the optional tariff two weeks before the end of the commitment period, it will be automatically extended.

How can I cancel early?

There are certain circumstances in which you can switch health insurance provider even if the commitment periods have not yet ended:

  • right to extraordinary termination
  • end of the membership “by law” 

Right to extraordinary termination

You have a right to extraordinary termination if the health insurance provider

  • charges a supplementary contribution for the first time or
  • increases the supplementary contribution rate

In these cases, you are not bound by any commitment periods. However, the two-month notice period still applies.

You must exercise your right to extraordinary termination by the end of the month from which the new or increased supplementary contribution applies. You must pay the increased rate until your switch to the new provider is complete.

Example: your health insurance provider increases the supplementary contribution as of May 1. You can therefore “cancel” by no later than May 31 of the same year. Under consideration of the two-month notice period, you can switch to the new provider on August 1.

The decisive factor for timely termination is when the new health insurance provider notifies your current provider about the switch – not the date of your membership application. You should therefore exercise your right to extraordinary termination as soon as possible.

Your health insurance provider is obliged to notify you in writing about the change one month in advance. The written notification must contain information about the amount of the average supplementary contribution of all health insurance providers and about the possibility of switching to a cheaper provider. It must also indicate the right to extraordinary termination. If this happens late, later cancellation is also possible: this will then be treated as though it had happened in a timely manner.

Important: The right to extraordinary termination does not apply if you have agreed to the optional sickness benefit tariff.

Termination “by law”

It is also possible to prematurely switch to a different health insurance provider if the membership is terminated “by law”. This is the case if you change employer or your legal insurance status changes, for example because:

  • you switch from receiving unemployment benefit I or II to being employed
  • you switch from being employed to receiving unemployment benefit I or II
  • your regular income at the end of the year rises or falls above or below the annual income threshold (“Jahresarbeitsentgeltgrenze” – JAEG).

In these situations, you do not need to observe minimum commitment periods or the general notice period.

However, it is only possible to switch health insurance provider within the first 14 days, calculated from the date on which your status changed. Voluntarily insured persons can switch provider within the first three months.

Further information about the annual and current income thresholds can be obtained from the Federal Ministry of Health (Bundesgesundheitsministerium).

How can people switch between statutory and private health insurance?

Only people who are not subject to compulsory statutory health insurance can obtain private health insurance. These include civil servants, the self-employed and people whose annual income exceeds a certain threshold known as the annual income threshold.  
On the other hand, statutory health insurance is compulsory for employed persons whose income is below this threshold, manual workers, students and pensioners.

It is only possible to switch between private and statutory health insurance if this compulsory insurance status changes. As contributions and contractual terms can also differ greatly, it is advisable to be well-informed prior to any switch.

Switching from private health insurance to a statutory health insurance provider

To switch from a private health insurance company to a statutory health insurance provider, you must be subject to compulsory insurance.

This applies:

  • if you work in a role where your income is below the current annual income threshold
  • you give up self-employment entirely or only continue to do it as a second job

Furthermore, switching is only possible if you are 55 or under.

Further information about switching and the related options can be obtained from the consumer advice center (Verbraucherzentrale; in German).

If you are considering switching to statutory health insurance, you should first consider the following questions:

  • Which benefits do you rely on? Does statutory insurance cover these benefits to a comparable extent?
  • If your private insurance contributions are too high: is there a lower rate that you can switch to?

Interesting fact: All private companies have to offer a base tariff that offers comparable benefits to those available with statutory health insurance. The base tariff contribution must not exceed the maximum contribution applicable for statutory health insurance.

In general, switching to a different private health insurance provider is not advisable as you may lose any accruals and other discounts or bonuses that you have acquired over the years when you switch. Your health will usually be re-examined.

Switching to a private health insurance provider

People who are not subject to compulsory statutory insurance can choose whether they want to take out statutory or private health insurance.

Private health insurance sometimes offers certain advantages. For example, it often covers more benefits than statutory health insurance, no additional payments are required and waiting times tend to be shorter. The precise conditions offered by private health insurance providers are specified in the insurance contract.

If you are considering private insurance, it is useful to think about several aspects:

  • Contribution and premium conditions: with private health insurance, the contribution amount is based on factors such as age and pre-existing health conditions, not income. The contributions generally increase with age.
  • Coverage differences: the benefits covered are regulated in the insurance contract.
  • Contractual freedom: private health insurance companies are not obliged to accept people as members. You may therefore find that a company rejects your membership application.
  • Health check: the applicant’s health will be checked and the contribution amount determined based on the result.
  • Family insurance: a separate contract must be concluded for every family member to be covered.
  • Long-term care insurance: private long-term care insurance has to be taken out in addition to the health insurance.
  • Switching to statutory health insurance: this is only possible under the aforementioned conditions. An age limit of 55 years also applies, after which it is no longer possible to switch.

If you wish to switch to a private health insurance company, you must give the statutory health insurance provider two months’ notice. In this case, the twelve-month commitment period shall not apply.

Further information on switching to private health insurance can be found on the website of the Federal Ministry of Health (Bundesgesundheitsministerium)

Where can I obtain advice?

Independent Patient Advice Service for Germany (UPD)

Consumer advice centers

Independent insurance consultants

In cooperation with the Independent Patient Advice Service for Germany (Unabhängige Patientenberatung Deutschland gGmbH – UPD).

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