Impact of COVID-19 still reflected in statistics on seeking treatment


Statistics on cross-border healthcare in 2021 have been published. Fewer people have sought treatment than before, possibly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statistics compiled by the Contact Point for Cross-Border Healthcare and Kela contain information on which countries people from Finland have sought treatment in and how much Kela has paid in reimbursements for treatment provided abroad. The statistics have been compiled in the Contact Point’s SlideShare account, which also contains separate statistics on seeking dental care . Seeking treatment refers to situations where people travel abroad for the express purpose of receiving treatment without prior authorisation.

In interpreting the statistics, it should be noted that the statistics only show those cases of seeking treatment for which the person has applied for reimbursement from Kela. In addition, reimbursement can be applied for up to six months after the treatment is provided, so the data may appear in the statistics with a delay.

Further decrease in seeking treatment

As in the previous years, Estonia was the country where Finns most often sought treatment independently in 2021. The top five countries also included Germany, Spain, Cyprus and Belgium. Reimbursement for treatment abroad has been declining in recent years. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions may have reduced people’s interest in seeking treatment abroad.

The statistics for 2021 show that the costs and reimbursements of necessary treatment have risen slightly from the previous years. Necessary treatment refers to, for example, treatment required for sudden illness that cannot wait for return to Finland.

Treatment with prior authorisation increased from previous year

It is also possible to seek treatment abroad with prior authorisation. Prior authorisation is a payment commitment applied for from Kela, thanks to which the client only pays the local client fee for the treatment. Kela will grant the prior authorisation if public healthcare recommends it.

In 2020, 111 prior authorisations were applied for and 74 were granted, which was less than in the previous years. In the statistics for 2021, however, the figures have risen slightly, since 152 authorisations were now applied for and 93 were granted.

Dental care most often sought in Estonia

Estonia is leading the statistics on seeking dental care, but seeking dental care has also been on the decline. For example, in 2021, Kela granted reimbursements for dental care provided in Estonia in the amount of approximately EUR 81,000, while in 2017, reimbursements were still granted in the amount of more than EUR 260,000.

Reimbursements for medicines returning to previous levels

The statistics for 2020 showed an increase in reimbursements for medicines purchased abroad. That year, more reimbursements were granted than before, totalling over EUR 141,000. However, the statistics for 2021 show that reimbursements for medicine costs incurred in the EU fell to just under EUR 70,000.

Outside Europe, Thailand leads statistics

Kela does not grant reimbursement for seeking treatment independently outside the EU area. However, reimbursement can be applied for retrospectively if the treatment was provided for a sudden or chronic illness, pregnancy or childbirth. In practice, this reimbursement is usually very small in relation to the cost of treatment.

In 2021, like in the previous years, Kela granted the most of these reimbursements for medical care costs incurred in Thailand, the United States and Turkey. The amount of reimbursements for treatment in Thailand and Turkey had decreased slightly, whereas the figure for the United States had risen from EUR 7,000 in the previous year to EUR 9,000.