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Health costs continue to spiral

The Swiss authorities are trying to get a grip on health costs

(Keystone Archive)

Swiss health insurance premiums are expected to increase by 4.3 per cent next year, according to insurers.

The forecast comes one week before the annual hike in premiums is due to be officially announced, and is in line with basic health costs which have risen 24 per cent in the past five years.

The announcement on Monday by Santésuisse, the umbrella organisation of health insurance companies, coincides with the release of a new report into health costs.

Santésuisse estimates that premiums for basic health insurance will rise by 4.3 per cent next year, a little less than in previous years. This disguises wide differences among health insurers and regions.

By contrast, the cost of providing such care will rise by five per cent on average.

In the first study ever conducted over several years, the Swiss Health Observatory said the costs for obligatory health insurance had risen by 24 per cent between 1999 and 2003.

The institution was set up a few years ago by the federal and cantonal governments to monitor and analyse Switzerland’s health system.

In the five-year period ending in 2003, total costs for basic compulsory health insurance rose from SFr14.6 billion ($11.48 billion) to SFr18.2 billion.

The total cost of Switzerland’s health system was SFr48 billion in 2002 (for a population of 7.5 million). The bill is divided among insurers, individuals and the cantons.

Solutions

“The five-year analysis makes a discussion possible on the development of costs in the medium-term,” said Peter Meyer, head of the observatory.

“We can only begin to look at solutions when we know what we are talking about,” he added.

The observatory said there had been a particularly significant rise in the cost of medication and the treatment of outpatients.

The study also uncovered large discrepancies between the cantons.

The average amount paid for basic compulsory insurance was found to be 36 per cent higher in canton Ticino and large parts of canton Geneva and Vaud than it was in (German-speaking) eastern and central Switzerland.

The average person in Italian-speaking Ticino pays more than SFr3,000 annually for compulsory coverage.

Expensive

Later this week parliament is due to debate reforms to Switzerland’s health system, which is considered to be among the most expensive in the world.

In a statement, Santésuisse said it was hopeful that the reforms being discussed would start to address the spiralling cost of healthcare.

However, it warned that parliament was also set to debate plans to expand the services covered by compulsory insurance, which it said would be “irresponsible”.

The health insurers have proposed a series of measures which they believe will cut costs.

Included are demands that health insurance companies be allowed to decide which doctors are eligible to treat insured patients, as well as a substantial reduction – from 50 to 40 per cent – of the subsidies insurers pay to finance hospitals.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The cost of basic health care rose by 24 per cent between 1999 and 2003.
The total cost of Switzerland’s health system was SFr48 billion in 2002.
People in Italian-speaking canton Ticino pay the highest rates.

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