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Single health insurance plan appears doomed

Opponents of the initiative have a comfortable lead swissinfo.ch

Swiss voters appear opposed to a plan to introduce a single health insurance company and premiums based on income and wealth amid efforts to reduce increasing costs.

This content was published on February 2, 2007 - 18:16

A survey carried out less than two months before a nationwide vote on March 11 shows the initiative is clearly more popular in the Italian- and French-speaking regions than in the majority German-speaking part of the country.

The poll, published on Friday, found that supporters of the proposal lag behind opponents by a margin of ten per cent.

Thirty-six per cent of respondents said they would vote in favour of the initiative - which was launched by a group in the French-speaking part and backed by the centre-left, notably the Social Democrats.

Forty-six per cent came out against and a further 18 per cent are still undecided, according to the gfs.bern research institute which carried out the survey on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation – the parent company of swissinfo.

"It is a decidedly difficult situation as a people's initiative usually enjoys a popularity bonus among voters at the beginning of the campaign," said Claude Longchamp, head of the research institute.

Opposition to the plan is markedly more pronounced in the main German-speaking region with 52 per cent against 28 and 23 per cent respectively in the other language regions.

Backing for the initiative is strongest among respondents in the Italian-speaking part.

The survey points out that supporters of the Social Democratic Party and citizens with smaller incomes tend to lean towards approving the initiative, but support is not particularly marked.

Popular

Cost reduction is the most popular argument in favour of a merger of the existing 87 private health insurance firms, while opponents mostly criticise the lack of choice that would result from a single insurer.

The researchers say they expect an above average turnout for the vote on March 11.

"At the end of January 42 per cent of respondents said they would take part in the ballot. Considering that citizens have only just begun to make up their minds on the issue we can expect above average participation," said Longchamp.

The forthcoming vote is the latest attempt at reducing healthcare costs in Switzerland. Previous proposals, including an overhaul of the funding system of hospitals and promoting cheap medication have all failed.

Four years ago, 73 per cent of voters rejected a plan aimed at introducing health insurance premiums related to income and wealth instead of the current per capita system.

The Swiss health system is known as one of the best and most expensive in the world. An international comparison shows Switzerland spends 11.5 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product on health - nearly three per cent more than citizens in other industrialised countries.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

In brief

The people's initiative was launched by a family association. It has the backing of the centre-left Social Democrats, the Greens and the trade unions as well as some doctors' associations.

It is opposed by the government, a majority of parliament, the business community, the health insurance sector as well as the main political parties on the right and centre-right.

A 1996 law obliges every Swiss resident to take out basic health care insurance covering a range of services. The insurance is private and the insured person can currently choose among 87 companies.

The premiums, based on a per capita system, vary from canton to canton and differ from one insurance scheme to another.

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Key facts

1269 citizens in the three main language regions were interviewed over the phone.
In favour: 36%
Against: 46%
Undecided: 18%
Expected turnout: 42%
The poll was carried out from January 22-27.
A second gfs.bern survey is planned for later this month.

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