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HEALTH INSURANCE

Switzerland set to introduce 50 franc fee for emergency room visits

A proposal to introduce a mandatory CHF50 fee for hospital emergency room visits for minor ailments has been approved in Switzerland.

Switzerland set to introduce 50 franc fee for emergency room visits
Photo: Depositphotos

On Tuesday, the Swiss National Council voted in favour – by a majority of 108 to 85 votes – to impose a mandatory charge on emergency room visits for minor medical conditions. 

The proposal will now go to the Council of States, where it is expected to be approved. 

While representatives in several cantons including Zurich and Bern have debated the measure, supporters have argued that it would be ineffective unless it was established at a federal level. 

Member content: What you need to know before taking out Swiss health insurance

Under the proposal, the rule will be adopted federally but individual cantons will decide whether or not the fee should be implemented. 

A 'personal responsibility' initiative?

Arguing that the move would improve personal responsibility and bring down overall healthcare costs, Thomas Weibel (Green Liberals) was behind the successful parliamentary initiative. 

Weibel suggested that the fee would encourage patients to consult their general practitioner before visiting the hospital, as family doctor consultations are significantly cheaper than emergency room visits. 

According to figures introduced into the National Council by Weibel, a visit to an emergency room costs the hospital CHF427, with GP visits costing less than half. 

Photo: Depositphotos

Supporters of the proposal also say that it would make hospital emergency departments more efficient, as they would be able to focus purely on actual emergencies rather than an array of non-urgent medical complaints. 

Weibel also said the move would make patients more aware of how much it costs hospitals when patients visit the emergency room. 

As The Local reported in the lead up to the October 2019 Swiss election, rising healthcare costs were one of the major concerns of voters in Switzerland. 

Have your say: What are the most important issues in the 2019 Swiss election

The devil in the detail?

While details remain relatively scarce, Swiss media is reporting that people who have been referred to the hospital by their doctors as well as people under 16 would be exempt from the new fee. 

Medical ailments considered ‘minor’ would be those which do not require a subsequent hospitalisation. 

The fee would be imposed regardless of the patient’s existing insurance coverage, meaning it would need to be paid in addition to any relevant deductible and would not impact monthly premiums. 

An uneven impact? 

Those opposed to the fee argued that it would be administratively difficult to implement and that it would lead to disputes.

They also criticised the lack of detail in the proposal, particularly the specifics surrounding which conditions would be deemed ‘minor’ and if any exceptions would apply. 

Yvonne Feri, of the Social Democrats, said that the costs of the new fee would be borne out by the poorest members of society – as well as those in rural areas. 

Speaking in parliament, Feri said “above all, the fee hurts the poorest, the elderly and the chronically ill.” 

“In the countryside, you often don't find a family doctor so quickly.”

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A commission established to consider the proposal issued a non-binding rejection of the idea in April, arguing that the costs of introducing the fee would be disproportionate to the actual effect – and that the exceptions would be difficult to properly set. 

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HEALTH INSURANCE

What you should know about Swiss health insurance comparison sites

Premium comparators promise to help policyholders find the best rates for Switzerland’s health insurance premiums. But some sites present inaccurate information, while others provide no comparison at all.

What you should know about Swiss health insurance comparison sites

Health insurance premiums for the compulsory (KVG / LaMal) coverage are set to increase by 6.6 percent on average in 2023 — and in some cantons by even more.

For instance, the highest, above-national-average premiums will hit Neuchâtel (+9.5 percent), Appenzell Innerrhoden (9.3 percent), and Ticino (9.2 percent).

Residents of Zurich will see their premiums increase by 7 percent.

READ MORE: Which Swiss cantons will see the biggest increase in health insurance premiums?

The decision to switch to another carrier must be made before November 30th, so many policyholders may be looking for cheaper rates right now.

Various Swiss sites provide what they say are “comparisons” of rates offered by different insurance carriers, so that consumers can choose whichever option is best for them.

But as a recent consumer report by RTS public broadcaster revealed, “these sites are not always reliable and the results vary from one platform to another”.

The report analysed 16 such platforms.

However, “despite their appearance, nine of the platforms in question offer no comparison. They simply collect user data, often with a view to transmitting it to a broker who can use it to offer insurance”, RTS reported.

Who are the worst ‘offenders’?

The RTS has identified three: comparativecaisse Maladie.ch, OffresCaisse Maladie.ch, and Visionna.ch.

According to the report, Groupe Mutuel insurance company “is hiding behind each of these sites”.

After the broadcast, Groupe Mutuel suspended these websites, before putting them back online in modified versions.

“We immediately demanded an overhaul of the websites concerned from our external marketing agencies, so that the content is more explicit and to avoid any confusion”, the company said, apologizing to consumers “who would have felt misinformed”.

‘Deception’

While there is no actual proof— only suspicions — that companies provide flawed comparisons for their own benefit, “if a platform, which is supposed to represent several or all insurers, represents only one, there may be deception”, according to State Secretariat of Economic Affairs (SECO), which monitors these activities.

In fact, the Groupe Mutuel is not the only carrier found to engage in this practice.

“When these sites are run by brokerage companies, we know that they sign contracts with certain health insurance companies which need, for various reasons, to attract new customers”, said Yannis Papadaniel, head of the health sector at the FRC consumer federation.

“These platforms will highlight the insurance products with which the brokers have signed a contract. However, these products or these models are not necessarily those which will best meet customers’ needs”, he added.

In other words, they are not only inaccurate, but also biased.

Who can you trust?

Not all such platforms are deceptive, however.

This official government site has the latest, and accurate, information about various rates.

Also, the online comparator on the FRC site is reliable and impartial.

Two consumer platforms, Comparis and Bonus, are also helpful sources, though they do have adverts for insurance companies.

Both do, however, let consumers know that these are paid advertisements, rather than their own recommendations.

READ MORE: How people in Switzerland can save money on healthcare

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