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Support for proposals to curb Swiss health insurance costs wanes

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Support for proposals to curb Swiss health insurance costs wanes
Opponents say the 'yes' vote could affect health services overall. Image by fernando zhiminaicela from Pixabay

On June 9th, Swiss citizens will weigh in on two proposals aiming to curb the cost of the obligatory health insurance. But despite earlier forecasts, fewer voters are now backing the proposed measures.

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The first issue on the national ballot seeks to cap the insurance rates at 10 percent of income and the second provides for a ‘brake’ on health costs, which should evolve according to the economy and wages. 

While previous surveys showed a strong backing for both issues, the latest poll, released by Tamedia media group at the end of May, indicates that the initial support for both initiatives is weakening.

Only 50 percent now say they will vote for the '10-percent' initiative — versus 60 percent previously.

And 45 percent still support the ‘brake’ proposal — down from 54 percent in the earlier poll.

Why is this?

Let’s look at the ’10 percent’ proposal, as it is the more contentious of the two.

Various analyses indicate that while the idea of health insurance premiums not exceeding 10 percent of one’s income (with the surplus being paid by the federal and cantonal governments) is appealing, upon closer examination it is not as enticing as its name suggests.

Four main reasons are being evoked:

Premium cuts for low-income people already exist

The law on health insurance stipulates that cantons must reduce the premiums for people with limited financial resources. 

For instance, for children of low-income people, premiums are slashed by 80 percent. For young adults in training, they must be reduced by at least 50 percent.

In general, cantons determine who is entitled to a premium reduction and to what extent, based on each individual’s or household’s wages and number of children.

READ ALSO: How do I apply for health insurance benefits in Switzerland?

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The cost

The ‘yes’ vote would result in additional public expenses of 4.5 billion francs per year.

This could lead to tax increases and / or debts,  because the money to finance the scheme would have to be found somewhere.

According to the Federal Council, the proposal “is far too expensive and does not provide an incentive to control health costs.”

And the ‘yes’ vote could also backfire in another way, which brings us to the following point:

Fewer health benefits

A number of economists argue that one way to compensate for the additional cost of the new scheme would be to cut health services currently provided by the obligatory health insurance (KVG / LaMal).

As a result of this move, some of the medical treatments and procedures paid for by insurance would no longer be covered in order to save money.

Not addressing the root problem

One of the most common arguments brought up by opponents of the initiative is that it addresses the symptoms rather than tackling the underlying causes of the problem — that is, rising healthcare costs.

Therefore, they argue that subsidising health insurance premiums even more is not the right solution.

Several possible steps to curtail healthcare spending — and, consequently reduce insurance premiums as well — are currently on the table.
 
They include measures such as  a more widespread use of generic instead of brand-name drugs, among others.
 
READ ALSO: How Switzerland's political parties want to curb surge in health costs 

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What will happen if the proposal is rejected at the polls?

In that case, the government’s counter-proposal will automatically go into effect.

It aims to further reduce premiums, while encouraging cost control.

READ ALSO: How Switzerland's two crucial health insurance referendums could impact you 
 

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