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Swiss federal votes on June 9: what’s on the agenda?

Two initiatives aimed at limiting healthcare costs will take centre stage when Swiss voters go to the polls on June 9. Citizens will also decide on a new energy law and on a proposal to cement in law the right to refuse vaccination.

The relentless increase in the cost of mandatory health insurance is a major concern for the Swiss population. As a result, political parties are now trying to address the issue, and on June 9, two separate initiatives are on the voting agenda.

One of the people’s initiatives, launched by the left-wing Social Democratic Party, wants to limit the cost of health insurance premiums to 10% of a household’s income. To achieve this, it proposes that the state pick up the slack with subsidies whenever somebody exceeds this proportion. According to the plan, at least two-thirds of the new financial help would come from the federal budget, with the rest being paid by the country’s 26 cantons.

Above all, the Social Democrats want to help those who are currently struggling to pay their health insurance bills. However, it also aims to level the playing field: subsidies in this area already exist to some degree, but their amount differs considerably from region to region.

The initiative may struggle to garner support outside left-wing circles: among political parties, only the Greens have also come out in support.

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June 9 votes in Switzerland: how can healthcare costs be reined in?

On June 9, Swiss voters will decide on two initiatives aimed at capping the cost of healthcare in the country. Have your say on the issue here.

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The Centre Party meanwhile has another proposal for reining in costs and easing the burden on households. Its plan involves the introduction of a “brake” on healthcare costs, which would be implemented according to the state of the economy and salary levels.

According to the idea, federal authorities would have to take action if and when the rise in healthcare spending exceeds the rise in salaries by over 20%. However, the initiative gives no indication of exactly what measures authorities would then have to take to rein in the costs.

The Centre Party argues that the mechanism would force all actors involved in the healthcare sector to implement cost-saving solutions which have already long been available. But its initiative also enjoys scant support: no other major political group is behind it.

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In Switzerland, the spike in healthcare costs particularly affects households, which – via their premium payments – finance a quarter of the whole healthcare system.

This proportion is above average for countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In France, households pay for just 9.3% of healthcare costs; in Germany the figure is 12.7%, and in Italy 23.3%.

The Swiss healthcare system is not only one of the most expensive in the world; it’s possibly one of the most complex. It is based on a mixture of public and private elements, with private health insurers operating in a heavily regulated market. And while cantons are largely responsible for healthcare policy, certain aspects are overseen at the federal level.

The other big item on the June voting agenda is the new energy law. This major reform, agreed by parliament in September 2023, aims to boost the development of renewable energy and guarantee the security of the country’s electricity supply, above all in winter.

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The law says that, by 2035, at least 35 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity should be produced by renewables, and 39 TWh by hydropower. To achieve this, regulations have been eased to speed up the building of big hydro, solar, and wind installations. The interest for the country of their construction outweighs concerns about protecting the environment, the law suggests.

This last point is where things get controversial. The Franz Weber foundation, along with other small environmental and landscape groups, managed to collect enough signatures to force a referendum. They reckon the new rules present a threat for the environment.

Faced with both climate and energy difficulties, nuclear energy could meanwhile be about to stage a grand comeback. In some countries this is already the case: Japan, for example, has restarted some plants, while France, Belgium and Finland have decided to extend the lifespan of their nuclear facilities.

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After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, the Swiss government decided to phase out nuclear power. Six years after voters approved this plan, the debate is back on the table. Many people on the right of the political spectrum think the transition to an energy supply without fossil fuels cannot be achieved via solar and wind power alone.

Finally, Swiss voters will also have their say in June on a people’s initiative entitled “for freedom and physical integrity”. Launched by a libertarian movement during the Covid-19 pandemic, the text notably aims at ruling out all obligations to vaccinate: refusing to get a jab should never lead to a punishment or to social/professional drawbacks, the movement says.

The right-wing Swiss People’s Party is the only major group to back the initiative. A general lack of enthusiasm for the idea probably stems from the fact that, in Switzerland, it’s already the case that nobody can be forced to get vaccinated against their will.

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Adapted from French by Domhnall O’Sullivan/ts

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