Health and Health Insurance
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the most common causes of death were cardiovascular diseases, followed by cancer. Accidents were the next most common causes of deaths in males. Respiratory diseases and liver problems were also significant causes of deaths.
The traditional Austrian diet is high in fats, carbohydrates, and sugar. Smoking is common--20 percent of women and 40 percent of men smoke. Most adults regularly consume alcohol, in particular beer and wine. An estimated 250,000 Austrians are alcoholics, and the incidence of alcoholism is twice as high among men as it is among women. As a result of these unhealthy habits, the incidences of cardiovascular diseases and cirrhosis of the liver are among the highest in Western Europe.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, Austrian health authorities attempted to make the general public more aware of the dangers of cholesterol, smoking, and alcohol. The government introduced a program of preventive check-ups under the auspices of various health insurance plans. As of 1990, however, only negligible inroads had been made into traditional patterns of consumption, which were more pronounced among men than women and contributed to the higher incidence of fatal disease and the lower life expectancy of men in Austria.
Austria ranks behind Hungary and Finland as a country with one of the highest suicide rates in Europe. Although some psychologists attribute the high rate to the national psyche-- such as an inability to openly carry out conflicts or the tendency to direct aggression toward oneself--there is no generally accepted explanation for this phenomenon. As elsewhere, men in Austria are almost three times more prone than women to commit suicide.
Public health authorities have had to deal with the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) since 1983, when the first cases were noted. As of mid-1993, slightly more than 600 Austrians had died of AIDS. The number of those infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was not known at that time, but estimates range between 8,000 and 14,000.
By 1990 state-required health insurance covered 99 percent of the population in Austria. Austrians also are required to pay into compulsory health insurance plans, which are similar to pension plans and are funded by employer and employee groups organized by professions. Foreign workers also are covered by these programs. Active employees and the self-employed, their dependents, the retired, and the socially disadvantaged qualify for medical coverage that includes out-patient treatment, medication, some dental work, surgery, and hospitalization in the so-called general class (general wards as opposed to private rooms). With the exception of minimal flat-rate charges for filling prescriptions and 10 percent of the overall charge for the hospitalization of dependents, out-patient and in-patient treatment is free for individuals covered by the health insurance plans.
Out-patient treatment is almost exclusively handled by physicians who have contracts with specific insurance agencies, and patients are free to seek the physician of their choice provided the physician has a contract with the patients' respective insurance agency. Although many physicians are in private practice, the great majority of them rely on these contracts--which regulate fees for services rendered--to generate the income they need to maintain their practices. This arrangement means that Austrian medicine is not "socialized" in the sense that physicians are employees of the state. However, the system is similar to a national health plan insofar as fees are regulated, and there is an exceptionally high degree of coverage for the population at large. A drawback to this system is that because physicians are free to establish their practices wherever they choose, medical coverage is poorer in rural areas than in urban centers.
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