Up to a quarter of Swiss inhabitants decided against medical treatment last year in order to save money, according to a survey.
The study, carried out online by the Swiss Health Observatoryexternal link (Obsan) for the government, and published on Thursday in Blickexternal link, put Switzerland in second place behind the United States in terms of people who could not afford to see a doctor. Dental treatment was not included in the survey.
Switzerland is known to have an expensive, but well reputed health system, that is normally considered accessible to all.
Compared with other countries, Blick said, patients in Switzerland pay a large part of the cost of medications themselves. The survey found that almost one in 11 people did not take their prescribed medications or did not keep to the prescribed dose for financial reasons. Almost 10% did not go to follow-up appointments.
In all, 22.5% of those surveyed said they didn’t go to the doctor for cost reasons. This compares to just over 10% in 2010, when the last survey was carried out.
Most affected were foreigners and those with low incomes. For foreigners the percentage saving money on health went up by 30% on 2010.
“People whose income is below average, were already associated with a greater risk of not seeking treatment for cost reasons in 2010. The risk is now greater,” the study said.
Santésuisseexternal link, the association of health insurance companies, said that not seeking medical attention ended up costing the Swiss health system more. Margrit Kessler, president of the Swiss Patients’ Associationexternal link, agreed. She told Blick that if people didn’t go to the doctor in time, their health could suffer and they would be subject to more expensive treatments.
Kessler said she found the study’s figures “alarming” especially as many people opted for a higher franchise (amount paid by patient before reimbursement by insurance company) to save money on their health insurance bills.
But health economist Stefan Felderexternal link told the newspaper that in an international scale, everyone still had good access to health services. Poorer people were on average more affected by illnesses but were “still medically well provided for”.
People could have been reacting to the steep increase in health insurance premiums and talk that health services have become more expensive, he added.
Clémence Merçay from Obsan added that people may have expressed themselves more freely online than on the telephone (as for the 2010 survey). It may have been that those surveyed were also referring to smaller ailments and check-ups.