Campaigners calling for the introduction of a single health insurance scheme have handed in the necessary signatures to force a nationwide vote. Unlike a similar initiative rejected in 2007, they will not demand premiums be based on income.
On Wednesday members of a coalition of 20 organisations – patient and consumer associations, leftwing political parties, trade unions and other health groups – celebrated a “major victory” when they handed in 115,468 signatures for their initiative at the Federal Chancellery in Bern.
Launched in February 2011, this collection of signatures “clearly demonstrates that the population is suffering under the burden of health premiums. It’s very important for the population to see this public health insurance scheme move forward instead of the current costly pseudo competitive system,” said Mathieu Fleury, vice president of the initiative committee, and secretary general of the Consumer Federation for French-speaking Switzerland (FRC).
The coalition argues that the new initiative will not only put an end to the current pseudo-competition between private health insurers but will also prevent major costs linked to people changing health schemes every year.
In the long run it will also allow a better management of costs, improvements in the quality of healthcare, greater transparency and savings on expensive advertising campaigns, it declared.
The initiative foresees the creation of a single national health insurance body with cantonal agencies which would fix premium levels and oversee payments.
However, opponents, like the centre-right Christian Democrats and the Radical Party, say the introduction of a single health insurer would avoid tackling the real health issues. They say it "deals with the symptoms rather than the causes".
The partues argue that proposed administrative savings only amount to five per cent of all health costs, while priority should be given to reducing Switzerland's expensive healthcare provision.
“To manage increased health costs we need a health policy that combines the public and private,” the Christian Democrats declared in a statement.
The Association of Swiss Insurers, for its part, said the initiative “missed the target” and efforts should be made to better define the existing insurance system.
In 2007 voters rejected a proposal to introduce a single health insurance company and premiums based on income and wealth by 71.2 per cent.
But according to a survey at the end of 2011 by the health insurers umbrella organisation Santésuisse, 56 per cent of the Swiss population support the idea of a single health insurance scheme.
This figure rises to 62 per cent in French-speaking Switzerland, compared with 54 per cent in the Swiss German-speaking regions. The proposal also gains greater support in towns and cities versus the countryside.
The Federal Law on Sickness Insurance, which came into force in 1996, obliges every Swiss resident to take out basic health care insurance covering a range of services.
The insurance is private and the insured person can choose his/her insurer freely. The health insurer is obliged to accept anyone regardless of age and state of health.
The premiums vary from canton to canton and differ from one insurance scheme to another.
One of the guiding principles is solidarity: a sick elderly person pays the same premium as someone who is young and healthy.
Swiss health system
The Swiss health system cost SFr60.9 billion ($68.5 billion) in 2009 – making it the seventh most expensive in the world.
This represented 11.4% of Swiss Gross Domestic Product, nearly 2% above the OECD average.
Health policy is defined at the federal level but Switzerland’s 26 cantons enjoy a high degree of autonomy in health matters.
swissinfo.ch and agencies