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‘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.

Read also: Health insurer 'must pay childbirth costs of blacklisted patient'

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

HEALTH INSURANCE

What is not covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance

Switzerland’s basic health insurance is among the most expensive in the world, but there are certain services it doesn’t pay for. Here are some of the benefits the scheme won’t cover in full.

What is not covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance

Basic insurance — KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian —  is compulsory in Switzerland. It doesn’t come cheap, but it is quite comprehensive and includes coverage for illness, medications, tests, maternity, physical therapy, preventive care, and many other treatments.

It also covers accidents for those who do not have accident insurance through their workplace.

Basically, whatever the doctor orders is covered by KVG / LaMal, at least partially.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

However, there are some treatments the basic insurance won’t pay for.

Experimental treatments

Any experimental treatments or drugs — that is, those not approved by the Swissmedic regulatory agency or the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) will not be covered.

This exclusion is not specifically Swiss; insurance schemes is most countries won’t cover unauthorised medical treatment either.

Dental care

In most cases, services such as teeth cleaning, dental fillings, root canals, tooth extractions, and orthodontic braces, are not included under basic insurance.

The only exceptions, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), are dental interventions “necessitated by a serious disorder of the masticatory system, or if such treatment is required to support and ensure the success of medical treatment for a severe general disorder (e.g. leukaemia, heart-valve replacement)”.

Most dental treatments are not covered. Photo by Pixabay

Eyeglasses and contact lenses

Compulsory health insurance will contribute up to 180 francs per year towards glasses and contact lenses prescribed by an ophthalmologist for children up to the age of 18.

No such benefit exist for adults. However, “in the case of serious visual impairment or certain illnesses (e.g. disease-related refraction abnormalities, postoperative alterations or corneal disease), compulsory health insurance will, regardless of age, make higher contributions towards medically prescribed spectacle and contact lenses”, FOPH says.

READ MORE: Reader question: Can Swiss health insurance exclude me if I have pre-existing conditions?

Ambulance

Emergency vehicles that transport you to a hospital can be quite expensive — depending on the canton, the costs can range from 900 to 2,000 francs per trip. 

Basic health insurance will contribute a certain amount  to the cost of emergency transportation, but only if it is a medical necessity — a serious accident, an illness, or a life-threatening situation. But if the patient could have travelled by private car or public transport, basic health insurance policies will pay nothing.

Insurance will cover some of the cost of ambulance transport only in emergency. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Private hospital room

While the cost of your hospitalisation will be fully covered, the basic insurance does not pay for a private room.

You will be accommodated in a room with other patients.

Depending on a medical facility — whether it’s a small hospital or a large, university medical centre, you could end up with just one other person or possibly four or five, the latter being common in teaching hospitals.

If you insist on a private accommodation, you will have to pay for it out of your own pocket.

Reader question: Can Swiss health insurance exclude me if I have pre-existing conditions?

Vaccines

Immunisations outlined by FOPH  will be paid for by insurance, as will the Covid vaccine.

Not covered, however, are travel-related vaccinations or preventive measures, such as against yellow fever or malaria.

Treatment abroad

Outside Switzerland, only emergency care is covered  — double the amount that the same treatment would cost in Switzerland.

Usually, basic health insurance will not cover transportation costs back to Switzerland, except in case of emergency, when it will cover 50 percent of the total cost of transportation to the nearest hospital abroad — but no more than 500 francs per year. 

If you only have a basic insurance policy and travel abroad often, especially to the United States, you should take out a travel insurance that will cover you for illness and accidents in foreign countries above and beyond what your Swiss carrier will pay.

And if you want to upgrade your treatment options, consider taking out a supplemental insurance or, if you can afford it, private one.

READ MORE: Should you buy supplemental health insurance in Switzerland?

You can find out more about what KVG / LaMal will and will not cover here.

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