Swiss health insurance premiums could rise by as much as ten per cent in 2006, according to several major insurers.
The speculation comes at a time of increasing debate over spiralling health costs in Switzerland and moves to reduce premiums for low-income families.
A rise of between eight and ten per cent is "quite realistic", says André Grandjean from Groupe Mutuel. This is a view shared by Visana, which is predicting a hike of eight per cent.
Santésuisse, the Swiss Association of Health Insurers, said that premiums rose by 5.4 per cent last year.
Spokeswoman Nicole Buillard says that new tariffs are calculated by multiplying this figure by a compensation factor of 1.5.
The industry predictions are higher than those of the government.
In May Health Minister Pascal Couchepin said premiums would most likely rise by between 3.5 and 4.5 per cent next year.
Couchepin did not, however, rule out that they could increase further.
Previous estimates by the insurance industry had put this year’s rise at 4.3 per cent.
Health costs in Switzerland, already the second highest in the world, increased by four per cent in 2003 and accounted for 11.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the same year.
Between 1999 and 2003, basic health costs are estimated to have increased by 24 per cent.
There have been concerns that some low-income families are struggling to pay for health insurance, which is obligatory in Switzerland.
In December last year, a coalition made up of - among others - the Green Party and consumer groups presented a proposal to the federal authorities to set up a single non-profit health insurer and introduce income-related premiums.
The initiative is the latest in a long line of attempts to stem healthcare costs. Other groups have suggested reducing the number of doctors and cutting the range of services covered by insurances.
The country’s healthcare system relies on individual contributions and taxes. It is the only country in Europe where premiums are not income-related.
swissinfo with agencies
Health costs stood at SFr49.6 billion in 2003, a 4.1% increase on 2003 – accounting for 11.5% of GDP.
The Federal Statistics Office expects a similar increase in the near future.
Health insurance companies paid 32.6% of the costs.
31.5% paid by patients
18% paid by the state
17.9% paid by other insurance schemes
Several health insurers have predicted that premiums are likely to jump by as much as 10 per cent in 2006.
Health Minister Pascal Couchepin had predicted an increase of between 3.5 and 4.5 per cent.
Health costs increased by 5.4 per cent in 2004.