Cat Bites and Dental Vacations: The Ups and Downs of the Danish Health Care System


I’ve just arrived back in Denmark after a couple of weeks in the US and the night I got back, my cat bit me. This was not just a little affectionate peck – Fluffy used her sharp teeth, her fangs, to create four bleeding puncture wounds in my leg. I suppose it was partly my fault – I put a call on speakerphone. Fluffy doesn’t like speakerphone, because she can hear a person, but she can’t see one, so she assumes I’m some evil magician who has put a person inside a little glowing box, and she bites me.

So I was bleeding, and I did what I did the last time she bit me….which was a couple of months ago, the last time I used speakerphone: I called 1813, the Danish government’s non-emergency line for off-hour medical situations.

I waited about 5 minutes for a nurse to take the call, and she asked me some questions about the size and location of the bite, and whether or not I’d had a tetnus shot recently. I hadn’t, so she made an appointment for me at the local emergency room for about an hour later.

Robot check-in

When I got to the emergency room, there was no human being to greet me – just a very tall robot with a scanner. I scanned my yellow Danish health card. The machine said ‘beep’ and automatically put me in line according to the seriousness of my injury. (Which was not all that serious.)

I waited a half hour or so. Then I was seen by Nurse Andrea, who examined the bite and the referred me to handsome Dr. Rasmus.

Handsome Dr. Rasmus was the highlight of the evening. He had a great bedside manner, and gave me a shot and enough penicillin to last the evening.Then he sent me home with a prescription so I could go to the pharmacy to pick up more penicillin, just in case Fluffy had some bacteria on her small teeth.

And that was that, until I use speakerphone again.

Health Care Quirks

This type of situation is when the Danish health care system works well. There are no forms to fill out, no insurance to hassle with, no payment of any kind. In general, the Danish system is excellent with things that have to be handled right away. They’re quick and efficient. I’ve even heard of tourists who have, say, broken an ankle in Copenhagen, and come back raving about the health care they received.

And, of course, it’s all tax-funded. (I hate it when people say Danish health care is ‘free’. I pay some very serious taxes for all this ‘free’ stuff.)

But the Danish health care system has some quirks. For example, dentistry is not covered, at least for adults. Dentists are so expensive in Denmark that it’s very common for people to go to on a ‘dental vacation’ to Poland or Hungary. If you need major dental work it is sometimes actually cheaper for you and a friend to fly to Krakow or Budapest or even Prague and get your teeth done, and even work in a little sightseeing.

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Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2021

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  • Avatar
    Reply David January 14, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    In the Overcast iOS 8 app, your episodes show up twice. May want to contact the app creator or check your feed for any bugs. Great podcast and love your stories.

  • Avatar
    Reply Sven January 16, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    The Danish health care pays for medication but within a year you pay 100% of the first 915 kr., 50% of the next 500 kr., 25% of the next 1.740 kr., and 15% of what is more than 3.235 kr.

    • Avatar
      Reply Kay Xander Mellish January 16, 2015 at 12:29 pm

      Thanks, Sven, that’s helpful. I guess I’ve been lucky enough never to go above DK915!

  • Avatar
    Reply May February 20, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    The medicine rules are a somewhat complicated and it really depends on what medicine it is. Some you have to pay 100% yourself, some you partially pay for according to the system Sven mentioned, some are 100% free – regardless of the cost (I take a very expensive medicine and pay nothing for it).

  • Avatar
    Reply Andriy April 7, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    I prefer to go for the dental vacation to Lithuania or Latvia. Their dentistry is one of the best in the world.

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