‘The Swiss government must make lifesaving drugs affordable’

Swiss health NGO Public Eye has launched a campaign calling for Swiss authorities to combat the exploding cost of lifesaving medications by taking on the pharma companies.

'The Swiss government must make lifesaving drugs affordable'
File photo: Depositphotos

The lack of access to medicines is no longer simply an issue for poorer countries but is now also a problem including for rich nations like Switzerland, the organisation stated in its Protect patients, not patents report.

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In the report published on Tuesday, Public Eye blamed the “current pharmaceutical pricing model, reliant on patent-based monopolies” for the problem of ballooning of medication prices, singling out the high costs of new cancer therapies.

One of the videos released by the Public Eye campaign (in English).

“Thanks to patent monopolies, pharma firms can basically set practically prices as high as they want,” said the organisation, noting “the cost of research and development remains one of the best-kept secrets in this very profitable industry”.

Read also: Analysis – how can Swiss health insurance be made cheaper?

Public Eye, together with the Swiss Cancer League is now calling for the Swiss government to fight price hikes for medications and to recognise the legitimacy of using so-called compulsory licensing when this is in the public interest.

Under compulsory licensing, generic medications can be distributed despite an existing patent.

“By resorting to compulsory licences, the Swiss Federal Council can restore the balance between the interests of an extremely profitable industry and public health needs,” the health NGO said.

Public Eye also called on Switzerland to stop bowing to big pharma's “aggressive lobbying” by imposing diplomatic pressure on other countries such as Thailand and Colombia wanting to protect public health through compulsory licensing.

“If we do not stop this trend, only the most privileged will be able to afford these [new cancer] drugs. Millions will die and millions will be left behind,” said the NGO of the current situation.

The organisation now hopes to collect 10,000 signatures with an online petition.

Swiss President Alain Berset on Monday recognised the problem of expensive medications: “We have to find a balance between company research, public research and market conditions, where investment pays off,” he said.

Currently, medicine costs account for 20 percent of all money paid into Switzerland's compulsory health insurance scheme, according to Public Eye.

For members


How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance is notoriously expensive, but you can lower the cost of premiums substantially by changing your company or coverage.

How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

The cost of health insurance premiums usually represents at least 7 percent of a typical household budget.

An adult spends nearly 4,600 francs a year on average on the mandatory basic coverage (KVG / LaMal) alone – covering only medical care, not dental. If any extra policies are taken out, the cost is even higher.

Not only that, but premiums have been rising practically each year, and look set to go up again in 2023, possibly by as much as 10 percent — the sharpest hike in 20 years.

READ MORE: Why Swiss health premiums are set to rise — and what you can do about it

Even though these costs are high and climbing, many people keep the same health insurance for years.

However, significant savings — to the tune of thousands of francs a year — could be made simply by switching carriers or plans, from the more expensive to the cheapest ones, according to a new study by the cost comparison site Comparis.

How much and where

The amount of the savings varies depending on policyholder’s place of residence, because rates are determined by cantons.

However, Comparis calculated that over a 10-year period, people living in Zurich could have saved 33,396 francs in premium costs and for those living in Bern this amount is 30,064.

Lausanne residents could cut their costs by 36,494 francs over 10 years, 31, 032 in Geneva, and 33,490 in Basel-City.

“With the strong premium increases expected this fall, the savings potential is even greater,” said Felix Schneuwly, health insurance expert at Comparis.

So how can you save money? Here are some of the ways:

Increase your deductible

In Switzerland, the deductible (franchise) ranges from 300 to 2,500 francs – this represents the medical costs that you have to pay out of your own pocket before your health insurance kicks in.

As with most types of insurance, the lower your deductible, the higher your premiums, and vice-versa.

If you are young, healthy, and are not on any long-term medication then you can save substantially with the highest franchise.

Keep in mind, however, that if you choose the highest deductible and end up having an accident or falling sick and needing medical care, you will have to pay a greater proportion of the costs.

Switch to a less expensive plan.

The standard model for healthcare in Switzerland is that you can consult any medic that you want, and you do not need a referral to see a specialist.

However, there are some types of health insurance plans that have cheaper premiums, but impose certain limits on your access to non-emergency medical care.

For instance:

Health maintenance organisation (HMO)

Under this model, policyholders are required to consult a particular HMO practice. Two disadvantages of this alternative is a limited choice of doctors and you also need a referral to see a specialist.

However, the benefit is a premium reduction of up to 25 percent compared to the conventional insurance.

Family doctor model

Your family doctor, a general practitioner, will be designated by your insurance company and will be in charge of all your non-emergency medical treatment.

He or she will refer you to a specialist if necessary. 

If you opt for this option, you could save 20 percent on your insurance.

READ MORE: Five tips for getting cheaper health insurance in Switzerland

The Telmed alternative

If you choose this option, you have to call a telephone service and get a referral to a doctor or hospital.

This does not apply to medical emergencies and there are other exceptions, such as eye exams and annual gynaecological check-ups.

Total savings could range between 15 and 20 percent. 

Cancelling or changing your policy

If you want to cancel your current insurance policy and take up a cheaper one , you have to do so by registered letter before November 30th.

By then, you will know what your premiums will be in 2023 because your carrier must notify you of the new rates by October 31st.