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Parties discuss cure for ailing health system

Increased competition helps rein in health costs according to party delegates

(Keystone Archive)

Two leading centre-right parties have approved a series of proposals aimed at cutting spiralling health costs in Switzerland.

Both the Christian Democrats and the Radicals have come out in favour of higher excess payments for patients and limiting the free choice of doctors.

Delegates of the Radical Party on Saturday adopted a proposal for a national health council to examine the Swiss health system.

They came out in favour of allowing health insurance companies to reject cooperation with doctors deemed too expensive.

The delegates also voted for the introduction of cost ceilings for certain surgical operations as well as higher excess payments for patients.

The interior minister, Pascal Couchepin, who is also charge of the health portfolio, said more competition was a crucial element to lowering health premiums.

He said lower drugs prices, agreed with the pharmaceutical industry in September, and striking homeopathic treatments off the list of basic health coverage would help cut back spending.

Competition

In a similar vein, Economics Minister Joseph Deiss told delegates of his Christian Democratic Party that the best way of combating inefficiency was to increase competition in the health system.

He also called on the country's 26 cantons to make better use of their powers to reform the hospital network.

Chrstian Democratic delegates approved a raft of proposals designed to reduce health insurance premiums, including higher excess payments, the introduction of a flat rate for medical consultations and limiting the free choice of doctors.

The meeting urged the government to consider exempting children from paying premiums for basic coverage under Switzerland's mandatory health insurance system.

Spiralling costs

However the delegates rejected plans by the centre-left Social Democrats to introduce a single health insurer and propsals by the rightwing Swiss People's Party to further limit basic health coverage.

Over the past few years, health premiums rose between 3.7 per cent and 9.7 per cent. The continuing increase in health costs has become a major burden for many families in Switzerland.

Attempts by parliament to amend the 1996 health insurance law have so far failed. But new moves are underway in the Senate to consider a proposal to reorganise hospital funding.

Switzerland 's health system is the second most expensive in the world.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

In 2003 health costs in Switzerland accounted for 11,5% of GDP (1985: 8%, 1995: 9.7%).
The Swiss spent an average of SFr6,736 ($5,214) per year on health in 2003.
The total costs for the Swiss health system stand at SFr49,881 billion.

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