Cost confusion blamed for health vote failure


Lack of clarity over costs has been blamed for voters' clear rejection on Sunday of a proposal on introducing a single health insurance in Switzerland.

This content was published on March 11, 2007 - 18:51

Supporters of the people's initiative vowed to fight on to reform the country's expensive health system. Opponents said they were relieved at the outcome.

In all, 71.2 per cent of voters rejected the reform, which would have replaced the current 87 private insurers providing mandatory coverage for basic health care and introduce premiums based in income and wealth.

The plan had been supported by the centre-left, but opposed by the centre-right as well as the business community, parliament and the government.

Political scientist Georg Lutz of Bern University said he was surprised at how clear the result was, especially as polls beforehand had not shown such a clear "no" margin.

"It shows that many voters who hadn't made up their mind at an early stage came out against it eventually, and some of the yes voters might have switched at the very last minute," he told swissinfo.

He said confusion over how the plan would work and what it would cost the individual was one of the biggest weaknesses of the yes campaign. Opponents had made use of this, he added.

The result highlighted a difference between the majority German-speaking and the minority French-speaking regions, which were less opposed to the plan.

Lutz said the fact that French-speaking Switzerland believed more in the state's capacity to sort out problems and that premiums were generally higher in that part of the country may have accounted for the difference.

The political scientist said the health insurers could now come under pressure to some extent over costs and services.

Healthy future?

But he did not believe that Sunday's vote – the latest in a series of initiatives on reforming the health system - was the end of the issue.

But because the yes campaign had fared worse than expected supporters were not in a strong position to demand action, especially at this year's upcoming elections.

"I think there will be small step by step improvements, which is in this area quite difficult because there are such strong lobbies - the doctors, the pharmaceutical industry and health insurances," he told swissinfo.

"But in fairness the increase in costs has not been as big as in the past so there are things that can be done, but I don't think Switzerland is open for radical solutions."

For their part, the two main parties supporting the initiative said they were disappointed with the result, which they also put down to confusion over costs.

Fighting back

"The no vote has not solved any problems," said Social Democrat party president Hans-Jürg Fehr, adding the party would continue to campaign for a fair health system.

The Social Democrats are planning to launch two further proposals, one aimed at reducing the health insurance cost burden and the other to ensure more competition. The party said it did not see the defeat as a bad omen for this year's upcoming parliamentary elections.

Therese Frösch, the Green party politician who headed the initiative's committee, said the greater financial means available to the opponents had also contributed to initiative's failure.

In the opponents' camp, santésuisse, the health insurers' umbrella group, said people were clearly in favour of competition and freedom of choice.

"We are pleased with the result .We can now look to the future again," said spokesman Peter Marbet.

He said santésuisse would nevertheless work with the initiative's supporters, doctors and hospitals on finding ways to stem spiralling health costs.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Key facts

Official vote results:
For: 28.8%
Against: 71.2 %
Voter turnout: 45.5%
Cantons: all voted against except French-speaking Jura and Neuchâtel.

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In brief

The people's initiative for a single health insurance company and premiums based on income and wealth was launched by a family association in western Switzerland.

The proposal was supported by the political left, some trade unions and doctors' associations.

Parties from the centre-right, the right, the business community, government and parliament as well as the health insurers were against it.

The proposal was an amendment to the Swiss constitution and needed a majority of voters and cantons to pass at the ballot box.

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