Authorities seek collective health insurance for asylum seekers

Federal councilor Simonetta Sommaruga chats to participants at a 2017 Bern workshop for asylum seekers who recently moved to Switzerland © KEYSTONE / PETER KLAUNZER

The Swiss government has put out a public tender for a collective health insurance to cover all asylum seekers in its federal asylum centres. But could the move end up being expensive?

This content was published on January 9, 2019 - 09:29

All asylum seekers have right to basic healthcare in Switzerland. Provisionally admitted foreigners and refugees have to take out basic health insurance within three months of submitting their asylum requests. If they have already been allocated to a particular canton, it’s the canton’s job, but if they are still in a federal centre, the task falls to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). The federal agency has to pay for the insurance as well as any arising healthcare costs until the asylum seeker is allocated to a canton.

The SEM is however now looking, via public tender, for an insurer to offer basic insurance to all asylum seekers in federal centres. This would help reduce administrative costs – but should not affect coverage, as asylum seekers have the right to the same medical cover as the Swiss (see infobox).

Cantons: savings

Healthcare coverage for asylum seekers

Medical staff are present in federal asylum seeker centres to look after asylum seekers’ daily healthcare needs. They can refer patients to doctors if needed, who will come to the centres for consultations. Asylum seekers are also allowed to get vaccinations.

End of insertion

This is not a new idea: some cantons already enforce compulsory insurance for asylum seekers – this means that the canton and not the asylum seeker chooses the insurance company, type of cover or how much he or she has to contribute before the insurance pays (franchise). Here of course cantons try to save money, as they bear the costs.

Canton Basel City has insured its asylum seekers collectively in a package that does not include a franchise or excess. And since 2017, canton Aargau has opted for the highest franchise for asylum seekers to keep premiums down.

An expensive solution?

According to the SonntagsZeitung, the cheaper health insurance companies are not intending to go for the SEM contract, as it’s not considered lucrative enough. In general, asylum seekers’ health insurance premiums do not cover their full health care costs, health insurer Assura confirmed to

An expert in the article raised fears that a more expensive health insurance company could get the tender and because the SEM cannot force companies into a collective healthcare provision contract, being covered by the same insurer might end up being more expensive than individual insurance policies at cheaper companies. Individuals have to take out basic health insurance by law.

The SEM would not tell if it would go back to single insurance policies if the group health insurances tenders proved too expensive, due to the ongoing procedure.

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