Price watchdog targets rising health costs

Thicker than blood: The Swiss price watchdog wants more transparency when it comes to healthcare costs. AP Photo/Luis Romero

The growing expense related to healthcare in Switzerland is a major concern for the price watchdog, who has called for more transparency in the sector. 

This content was published on February 23, 2018 - 14:43

Speaking at the annual media conference of the federal cost oversight office in Bern on Friday, Stefan Meierhans unveiled a new website outlining the cost of 20 common procedures performed in Swiss hospitals. Users can sort the data by location and health insurance provider. 

For example, having tonsils removed costs about CHF5,000 ($5,350) at the university hospitals in Basel, Geneva and Zurich. Yet most hospitals in canton Bern would do it for CHF4,500. Or you could head south to Italian-speaking Ticino – where it would be CHF4,000 – in theory leaving a sizeable budget for throat-soothing gelato. 

Even if individuals don’t necessarily “shop around” for procedures covered by health insurance, Meierhans said the public should be aware of how costs vary because the overall burden is shouldered by society in general. 

“There’s too little transparency regarding costs, yet health insurance keeps getting more expensive,” said Meierhans. Since 1996, health insurance premiums have, on average, risen by 4.6% per adult per year – outpacing inflation and general salary developments. 

+ Head hospital physicians are making seven-figure salaries

Meierhans also cited the example of people with chronic illnesses who purchase their prescription drugs abroad because they’re cheaper. However, these generally aren’t covered by Swiss health insurance policies. 

“These are people who want to help cut costs. They should be rewarded, not punished for their efforts,” Meierhans said, adding that Swiss patients often pay twice as much for generic drugs as other Europeans. 

Asked about this week’s Swiss public television report on the massive incomes of chief physicians at Swiss hospitals, Meierhans replied that his office had made recommendations on how to eliminate incentive systems that encourage doctors to perform unnecessary treatments. 

Last year, his office contributed to a government report outlining 38 measures to reduce healthcare costs. 

Bytes and fees 

The price oversight office is also monitoring two other areas in particular: the digitalization of the economy and fees for various services. For example, in 2017, the office examined the prices of everyday goods and services, such as mobile roaming fees, transport tickets, nursing home software, waste disposal, sewage and drinking water. 

Meierhans also mentioned that his office – having received many complaints on the subject – was looking into customs fees incurred via online shopping.

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