First Ukrainian Refugees Receive Icelandic Health Insurance

landspítali hospital

Twenty Ukrainian refugees were issued Icelandic health insurance yesterday. They now qualify for full benefits in the event of necessary healthcare service.

Processing to be expedited

Following the mass exodus after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Icelandic Health Insurance (IHI) announced that it would prioritise the issuing of social insurance for refugees. On Wednesday, IHI received documents necessary to issue health insurance to the first twenty refugees to arrive in Iceland. The registration was completed on the same day.

“The reception of refugees is a big task for our society and for the healthcare system in particular. We’ve endeavoured to ensure the speedy processing of documents to grant this vulnerable group immediate access to healthcare service; many of these people urgently require different services,” María Heimisdóttir, Director of Icelandic Health Insurance, wrote in a statement on IHI’s website.

The statement also notes that refugees, like all people in Iceland, always have access to emergency services, regardless of whether or not health insurance has been issued.

Millions of refugees since the invasion began

Icelandic Health Insurance will also participate in the reception of refugees at the new receiving station at Domus Medica in downtown Reykjavík. IHI will have a representative on hand to provide information regarding aid equipment, drug rebate cards, healthcare premiums, etc.

As noted in its statement, the IHI has – from the time that it was clear that Iceland would be receiving Ukrainian refugees – collaborated with health insurance providers from other European countries to ensure that these individuals have access to health insurance: a complicated task, given that millions of people have fled Ukraine over the past month since the war began.

“This collaboration will continue; most refugees intend to return to their homeland as soon as the war is over,” the statement from IHI reads.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Free Rapid Tests Possible Key to Looser Restrictions

Harpa concert hall

Public health insurance will cover the cost of rapid antigen tests as of September 20, including those required by private organisations such as concert venues. The aim is to increase the public’s access to rapid antigen tests and enable more parties to offer testing free of charge. Current domestic COVID regulations allow events of up to 1,500 guests provided attendees undergo rapid testing. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason told Fréttablaðið that rapid tests could be the key to a more open society in the coming weeks.

When the pandemic began, Icelandic health authorities at first used exclusively PCR tests to screen for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Rapid antigen tests were approved for use much later and have only come into general use in recent weeks for border testing and for individuals who are not required to quarantine but may have been exposed to the virus.

In support of culture

New domestic regulations came into effect on September 15, raising the general gathering limit from 200 to 500 people. Events with up to 1,500 guests are permitted if all guests supply negative rapid test results. “In order for the introduction of rapid tests to serve its purpose of increasing people’s opportunities to attend a variety of events and pursue cultural activities, it is important to have easy access to rapid tests and that their cost is not cumbersome,” a government notice states.

The capital area healthcare service has offered rapid testing at Suðurlandsbraut 34 in Reykjavík, and other public healthcare centres offer rapid testing in various regions of the country. Private providers currently offer rapid tests at BSÍ, Kringlan, and Kleppsmýrarvegur in Reykjavík; Aðalgata 60 in Reykjanesbær; and the University of Akureyri in North Iceland.

The regulation comes into effect on September 20 and is valid until the end of this year.

Landmark Bill Includes Psychotherapy Under Icelandic Health Insurance

Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, chairman of Viðreisn party

Iceland’s Parliament passed a bill yesterday ensuring psychotherapy will be covered by public health insurance on the same grounds as other health services. Reform Party Chairperson Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir was the primary proponent of the bill, which was introduced by 23 MPs from all sitting parties and unanimously approved. It will take effect in 2021.

In Iceland, one session of psychotherapy can cost around ISK 17,500 ($126/€113). According to Statistics Iceland, around one third of the country’s residents say they cannot afford mental health services. The bill stated that including these services within the public health insurance system would eliminate “unnecessary suffering” while also providing savings for the country in the long term.

The Icelandic Psychological Association celebrated the bill’s passing. “The association has fought for improved access to psychotherapy for decades,” read a statement from the group’s chairman Tryggi Ingason. “The Icelandic Psychological Association believes an important step is being taken to increase the public’s access, regardless of means, to applicable mental health services. With this we are investing in improved public mental health which will benefit the national economy in the long run.”

Icelandic Mental Health Alliance director Grímur Atlason called the new legislation “really important. In recent years it’s been acknowledged that a large part of the nation struggles with some kind of mental health challenge at some point in their life. According to health clinics, it’s about 30% of everyone who visits the clinics.” Grímur told RÚV the move would increase the likelihood that people seek out therapy when they need it.