Health minister outlines further ideas to lower costs

A mother looks at her premature baby at the University Hospital in Zurich

Swiss health officials plan to closely study the German and Dutch health systems, saying they want to find more ways to lower costs and health insurance premiums.

This content was published on September 2, 2016 - 12:42 and agencies

Alain Berset, the Swiss interior minister in charge of health, outlined the plan at a press conference in Bern on Friday as part of a raft of new measures to fight costs.

Overall health costs are expected to rise by CHF1 billion ($1 billion) in 2016, according to the health minister. Individual health insurance premiums, which represent a heavy financial burden for many household budgets, would also go up, in line with similar increases over the past 20 years, he added.

Berset told reporters that CHF250-260 million of these overall costs are totally unjustified, owing to unnecessary treatments.

To help solve the problem, he said, the interior ministry will study the health systems in Germany, where hospital treatments are subject to financial thresholds, and in the Netherlands, in particular its outpatient care services.

A group of experts from both countries will take part in the project and help publish proposals in the next 12 months.

Berset says he also wants to introduce a system to standardise generic drug prices and to reduce the mark-up on medicines reimbursed by private health insurers. An estimated CHF180 million can be saved on reimbursed medicines between 2017 and 2019, and CHF80 million for cheaper generic drugs.

He is also seeking to conclude deals with the pharmaceutical industry to lower the costs of new drugs and improve coordination of healthcare.

Good care, but at a price

The measures announced on Friday follow similar measures presented earlier this year. In May, the minister said a special programme for health technology assessment would be set up over the next few years to systematically re-evaluate treatments and services covered by the mandatory health insurance.

With its excellent but costly health system, Switzerland has for a long time hesitated to introduce controls due to a lack of financial resources, Berset said in May.

Switzerland’s healthcare system provides for a democratic, consumer-driven market. People are given a choice between more than 60 different private insurance providers. Though it often is held up as a model by other countries, the Swiss health system becomes less exemplary when examined for the affordability and efficiency of its services.

Expenditures reached CHF68 billion ($75.7 billion) in 2014, with just over a third of it going towards the basic insurance coverage. Switzerland spends 11% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare, behind the US (17%), Netherlands, France, Germany and Canada.

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