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HEALTH IN TURKEY - INTRODUCTION
Turkey has undergone a comprehensive healthcare restructuring. In 2003, Turkey embarked on ambitious health system reform to overcome major inequities in health outcomes and to protect all citizens against financial risk. Within 10 years, it had achieved universal health coverage and notable improvements in outcomes and equity, with in particular a dramatic improvement in the quality of healthcare provided by state hospitals.
On the other hand, during the same period, much local private investment has been made in the health sector, and there are presently 46 Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited hospitals in Turkey providing the highest of health service standards, state–of-the-art treatment centres, and the latest in medical technology.
In addition to the high quality of health services and competitive price levels available, the attractiveness of the Turkish health sector as a health tourism destination can also be attributed to Turkey’s geographical location, being at the crossroads between East and West, offering a unique and diverse cultural richness. Indeed, the Turkish health sector, as a health tourism destination, offers good opportunities to foreign investors.
In the 21st Century, an increasing number of patients from developed countries are traveling abroad for their treatment. These patients are seeking high quality medical care at affordable prices along with the enjoyment of being a tourist in a foreign country. At first, the global medical market catered to patients who desired lower cost alternatives to selective procedures, which were mostly cosmetic. More and more patients are now looking for treatment abroad for more complicated procedures in a wider range of medical branches. Examples of such complex procedures are cardiovascular interventions, transplants, neurosurgeries, oncological treatments, and major orthopedic, urological and general surgeries. The availability of such quality procedures has been greatly due to the increasing number of alliances and affiliations with top US teaching institutions and foreign hospitals.
The global medical tourism market has been estimated to have an annual gross income of somewhere between USD 45.5 and USD 72 billion (according to Patients Beyond Borders, an industry trade group promoting patient travel). In Turkey, there is some confusion over the definition of a health tourist when considering a foreigner who comes for medical treatment as opposed to a foreigner who comes for geo-therapy spa treatment, and this results in differing estimates of figures for number of visitors and revenue. Though there are also no accurate official figures available for income from health tourism in Turkey, the income figures for Turkey are nevertheless significant. In a press statement on October 18th, 2017, Dr.Ahmet Demircan, Turkey’s Minister of Health, said that 359,000 foreign patients stayed in public, university and private health facilities in 2016, which is a significant increase from the 74,000 level recorded in 2008. Turkey ranks within the top 10 countries in the world as a destination for medical tourism, with 80% of its medical procedures in the fields of eye surgery, cosmetic surgery, cardiology, oncology, dentistry, and brain surgery. Turkey provides an estimated average saving of 50-65%.
Healthcare Services for Foreigners in Turkey
Foreign tourists who are not covered by any insurance system specifically designed for purposes of their visit can access healthcare services for free in emergencies. Foreigners who are working in Turkey are allowed to benefit from Turkish social security healthcare benefits on the condition that they are on the payroll of an established company in Turkey and that therefore their social insurance contributions are being paid. This is not required for foreigners of countries which have a bilateral agreement with Turkey. If you are over 65 years old, there is no requirement to prove you have health insurance, unless you are applying for a long-term residence permit.
With regard those foreigners who are not working, but are residing in Turkey for more than one year for whatever reason, they have the option of joining Turkey’s Universal Health Scheme as administered by the Social Security Institution (SGK). Contribution payments will start from the date of application. Applicants will also be required to undergo medical tests before being accepted onto the scheme and pre-existing conditions will not be covered. A foreigner who joined the health scheme before 29th May 2013 and who no longer wishes to remain in the scheme has the option of withdrawing by informing his or her local SGK office. For a foreigner who joined the health scheme after 29th May 2013 and wants to leave Turkey permanently, then he or she must surrender his or her residence permit to the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) and write a letter to SGK informing them that they are leaving the country. For foreigners wishing to take out private health insurance policies in Turkey, there are many Turkish and international companies offering such plans. Foreigners will have access to private hospitals and clinics selected by the insurance companies.