• Switzerland's news in English

Public V private? Swiss mull health system shift

AFP · 28 Sep 2014, 10:33

Published: 28 Sep 2014 10:33 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Going public would be a seismic shift for a country whose health system is often hailed abroad as a model of efficiency, but is a growing source of frustration at home because of soaring costs.

"Over the past 20 years in Switzerland, health costs have grown 80 percent and insurance premiums 125 percent," ophthalmologist Michel Matter told AFP.

"This is not possible anymore. It has to change," said Matter, who heads the Geneva Physicians Association, which backs calls to scrap the current system.

Left-leaning parties have championed the push for a state-held insurance scheme, saying it is the only way to rein in rising premiums and guarantee they are used efficiently and transparently.

Sunday's referendum comes after reformers mustered more than the 100,000 signatures required to hold a popular vote, a regular feature of Switzerland's direct democracy.

Recent polls showed that 54 percent of voters oppose the plan.

In a sign of growing public concern, however, that is far narrower than the 71 percent who rejected similar reforms in a 2007 referendum.

The current system requires that every resident in the wealthy nation of eight million hold basic health insurance, but offers freedom of choice among the 61 companies competing for customers.

In a country where the average monthly net salary is 4,950 Swiss francs (€4,100, $5,268), health premiums are around 400 francs per adult per month.

That does not include out-of-pocket spending on treatment such as dental care, not covered by basic insurance.

Premiums vary by insurer, age and region of residence, and clients can cut them by opting for an annual deductible -- a sum they pay from their own pockets -- of up to 2,500 francs.

Critics say the current system is unfair because basic coverage costs a millionaire no more than it does a low-paid worker.

Studies show that almost one-fifth of those on low incomes have skipped at least one monthly payment in a country where rents and retail prices are among Europe's highest.

The reformers also allege that insurers have too much political clout, with research showing that 14 percent of lawmakers have links to health firms or the sector's lobby groups.

But for Switzerland's cross-party government and its right- and centre-dominated parliament, the current system has proven its mettle and is debt-free, unlike the health services of France, Italy or Britain.

"We don't have a deficit in Switzerland. It's a healthy system. Of course we can criticise a lack of transparency by some insurers, but state control isn't going to solve such problems," said Ivan Slatkine, a senior party official from the rightist Liberal Radicals.

Supporters of the status quo argue that higher premiums are inevitable given an ageing population and costly cutting-edge medical care, and say shifting to a public system would generate few savings.

For more news from Switzerland, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Villagers asked to help fund bridge renovations
The bridge links the two villages of Veltheim (pictured) and Holderbank. Photo: Lutz Fischer-Lamprecht

The crowdfunding campaign by the two communes is the first of its kind in Switzerland.

Police discover body buried in Orbe house
File photo: Bas Leenders

Police have opened an investigation after finding a body buried in a house in Orbe, in the canton of Vaud, on Saturday.

Valais shaken by 4.2 magnitude earthquake
The earthquake hit in the canton of Valais near Sierre. Photo: Alain Rouiller

It's the biggest earthquake to hit the country for two years.

Swiss Indoors kicks off without champ Federer
Federer celebrates with ball girls and boys after winning the event in 2015. Photo: Harold Cunningham/Pool/AFP

Stan Wawrinka is top seed as injured Federer sits it out.

IOC hires Russian doping whistleblower as consultant
IOC President Thomas Bach confirmed the news. File photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has hired Vitaly Stepanov as a consultant and is helping his runner wife Yuliya.

‘Scary clown’ craze hits streets of Zurich
Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP

Police in Zurich have warned so-called ‘scary clowns’ that they could face charges, following a number of incidents in the city.

VIDEO: driver chases runaway car on Swiss motorway
Image: Neuchâtel police

Shocking footage shows the moment a man dodged lorries to chase after his runaway car on a Swiss motorway.

Saas-Fee crowdfunds low-cost season ski pass
Saas-Fee is hoping to attract 99,999 season pass holders. Photo: Denis Emery/Photo-genic.ch

Skiers could get their hands on a whole season pass for just 222 francs ($223) in the Swiss resort of Saas Fee this winter – if enough people want one.

Swiss billionaire fined for dodging import tax
Urs Schwarzenbach owns the luxury Dolder Grand hotel in Zurich. Photo: Wilhem Rosenkranz

Urs Schwarzenbach faces a $4 million fine for failing to properly declare some 200 artworks imported into Switzerland.

Muslim woman wins headscarf court battle
Photo: Jack Guez / AFP

A Swiss court has ruled against a company that fired a longtime employee after she began wearing the Muslim headscarf.

Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
Photo: file
Some deodorants could cause breast cancer: Swiss study
Photo: Royal Savoy
In pictures: Inside the latest Swiss luxury hotel
Photo: AFP
Geneva airport bomb hoaxer faces 90,000-franc bill
Photo: Schaffhausen police
Mother leaves toddler son alone in car to go clubbing
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Swiss populist attacked by knife-wielding pensioner
jobs available