Voters this weekend decide on proposals to promote controversial Managed Care health schemes as well as a rightwing bid to give the electorate a greater say on foreign policy treaties. Final results are expected on Sunday evening.
An initiative aimed at boosting home ownership through tax breaks on savings deposits is also on the agenda. According to opinion polls none of the three issues on the ballot is likely to win a majority.
Plans by parliament and the government to promote the introduction of Managed Care systems creating clusters of doctors, therapists, hospitals and pharmacies were arguably the most contentious subject matter in the run-up to the vote.
These networks negotiate binding budgets with health insurance companies, with GPs as gate-keepers for patients. Those people opting out and insisting on a unlimited access to medical services face higher bills.
There are currently about 90 Managed Care networks in the country, particularly in German-speaking urban areas.
The ultimate goal of the government is to have about 60 per cent of the population covered by Managed Care.
The campaign on the rather complex issue was marked by political parties being split down the middle and by sudden U-turns or pressure groups, including the main doctor’s association.
Supporters of Managed Care schemes argue it will result in spending cuts of about SFr1 billion ($1.05 billion) annually and help improve the quality of healthcare. The sector saw costs increase by about 50 per cent over the past 15 years according to experts.
However, opponents say the system would result in a two-tier system at the expense of the less affluent population and specialist doctors. A key argument brought forward was that patients would lose access to a doctor of their choice.
It was also pointed out that the impact of Managed Care systems in other countries have been highly controversial.
The second issue to come to a vote - an initiative by a conservative pressure group, Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland, wants to give voters the final say on foreign policy treaties.
The group, which is close to the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, wants every treaty to be put to a mandatory nationwide ballot. Observers say it is an attempt by opponents of closer Swiss-European Union ties to limit the powers of the government and parliament.
While supporters of the initiative praise direct democracy as a crucial element, opponents of the move – which includes most political parties, the government and the business community – say the isolationist campaign would establish an unwieldy system slowing down negotiations and damaging Switzerland’s economy and its reputation as a reliable international partner.
Currently only major accords, including membership of international organisations, are decided at the ballot box. In other cases, a vote can be called by challenging a parliamentary decision to a referendum, which needs the collection of at least 50,000 signatures within 100 days.
The business community is believed to have spent up to SFr5 million on its campaign to defeat the initiative.
In the third vote, the home owners’ association wants to convince voters to back their demand for tax breaks of up to SFr10,000 annually over ten years. The goal is to provide financial incentives for residents hoping to purchase a house or an apartment.
Supporters of the proposal, including the centre-right Radical Party and the People’s Party as well as the business community, campaigned with the slogan that home ownership was everybody’s legitimate right.
Opponents, - the other main parties, the government and the cantons – argued only the well-off could benefit from the initiative and the tax authorities stood to lose a substantial amount of badly needed revenue.
Switzerland has traditionally had a relatively low rate of home ownership compared with other European countries.
A similar initiative was rejected by 56 per cent of the electorate in March.
Experts expect a below average turnout of less than 40 per cent for all three votes on Sunday.
Opinion polls, conducted at the beginning and end of May and commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation found no evidence to suggest that any of the proposals is likely to win a majority (see related stories).