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Pressure mounts over "abortion premiums"

Those who renounce abortion say they are entitled to cheaper health insurance Keystone

A Swiss politician is stepping up his campaign for a change in the law to stop anti-abortionists benefiting from discounts from health insurers.

This content was published on June 16, 2006 - 11:02

Josef Zisyadis says the practice goes against the spirit of the country's mandatory health insurance system, which he says should be equal for everyone.

For a number of years members of Switzerland's 40,000-strong Pro Life organisation have benefited from a preferential deal on cover over and above the basic mandatory insurance. Currently two health insurers – Auxilia and Sansan – offer cheaper premiums.

By signing a voluntary declaration agreeing to renounce abortion and methadone treatment for heroin addiction, Pro Life members can obtain reductions of 10-40% on premiums, depending on age, family size and where they live.

Swiss Aid for Mother and Child (SAMC) offers a similar deal to its members, but its declaration goes further to cover prenatal checks and in-vitro fertilisation. It says "several thousand" members have signed this commitment.

Earlier this year Zisyadis called on the government to scrap "these dubious practices" which he said were designed to lure lower income families struggling with high health insurance premiums.

But ministers said last month that they were unwilling to intervene because people had a legal right to refuse certain benefits due to them and were free to negotiate reductions on supplementary insurance cover. They said it was "pointless and untimely" to ban the practice.

Parliament

Zisyadis now wants parliament to have its say on the issue – something he hopes will happen during the autumn session.

"I have a lot of support and I believe there is a good chance of getting a change in the law," the parliamentarian for the Communist Labour Party told swissinfo.

So far, 14 parliamentarians have signed his motion and the National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics has also registered its disapproval. It says the practice is morally wrong and undermines the principle of solidarity enshrined in the health insurance system.

"If people start saying that certain morally controversial treatments like abortion should not be part of basic insurance then the system of collective solidarity will break down," said Christoph Rehmann-Sutter, president of the commission.

"It opens the door for other groups to sign declarations renouncing other controversial treatments such as organ transplantation.

"We are not defending abortion: we are defending the idea that women should have a right to abortion under basic health insurance," he added.

Legal right

Both Pro Life and SAMC reject the criticism, saying they have a legal right to negotiate preferential premiums on supplementary health cover.

"We would like to save costs in our basic health insurance system and to give ethically minded people the opportunity to express their objection to the existing practice of automatic reimbursement for abortions," Gerd Weisensee, head of Pro Life, told swissinfo.

"These abortions kill human beings. Our conscience doesn't allow us to do so."

SAMC, which earlier this year saw three insurers withdraw collective contracts with the organisation as a result of criticism in the press, is now in the process of finding new partners.

Its head Dominik Müggler described Zisyadis's campaign to change the law as "absurd". He added that the ethics commission's appeal for solidarity was also wide of the mark.

"Solidarity with financing the killing of unborn children is not something we can support," Müggler told swissinfo.

Declaration of intent

According to Pro Life, both Sansan and Auxilia accept the declarations of intent by members. But Sansan, which is part of Switzerland's biggest health insurer Helsana, insisted that the agreement with Pro Life was not conditional on the declaration but simply based on cost.

"There are no conditions. This discount benefits all associations and businesses that sign a collective contract with us. It is independent of the statutes of Pro Life," said Helsana spokesman Thomas Lüthi.

Lüthi added that should a Pro Life member have an abortion, Sansan would cover the costs as laid down by the law and this would not affect the collective contract with the organisation.

swissinfo contacted Auxilia several times but failed to get an answer to its questions. Auxilia is part of the country's number two health insurer CSS.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

In brief

Basic health insurance, which covers abortion, is mandatory in Switzerland.

Pro Life members can benefit from preferential rates for additional cover, which includes treatment in private hospitals, and extra medical services.

The Swiss voted in June 2002 to legalise abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Previously women in most Swiss cities could only have an abortion if an independent doctor stated that it was needed for medical reasons.

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Key facts

Those who sign the Pro Life declaration agree to renounce abortion as well as illegal drugs and treatment for heroin addiction, which is also covered by basic health insurance.
If they or their children decide to seek an abortion or treatment for addiction, they should first consult a Pro Life medical adviser.
If they still go ahead with either treatment, they have to resign from Pro Life as of January 1 the following year.
The declaration also calls on parents to ensure children over the age of 12 sign a "moral charter" rejecting drug use and respecting life. If a child refuses, families have to resign from Pro Life.

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