Generic medication twice as expensive in Switzerland as EU

The price of many generic medicines, as compared by Interpharma and antésuisse, was twice as high in Switzerland as in nine EU countries.

Generic medication twice as expensive in Switzerland as EU
Photo: innovatedcaptures/Depositphotos

The Swiss pay some of the highest high health insurance rates anywhere yet many medications remain twice as expensive in Switzerland than in neighbouring EU countries.

Generic, non-patented, medicines are on average 48 per cent cheaper in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden than in Switzerland, according to a price comparison study (DE) released on Tuesday April 16th by private health insurance association santésuisse and pharmaceutical lobby Interpharma. 

Generics represent 23 per cent of the market share. “More could be saved on generics,” said Verena Nold, director of santésuisse, in a statement. Nold suggested “hundreds of millions of francs” could be saved by patients through further subsidies for generics with the introduction of what is called a reference price system.

Health insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms did increase their contribution to patented medicines between 2017 and 2019, resulting in savings to patients of 325 million francs, according to René Buholzer, managing director of Interpharma.

Even the 250 patent-protected medications that were compared resulted on average 7 per cent cheaper in the nine EU countries than in Switzerland. 

Patent-pending original preparations were on average 14 per cent cheaper in February 2019 in the European comparison countries than in Switzerland.

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Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad