Switzerland Has Its Own Kind of Obamacare — and Loves It

The country requires everyone to purchase private health insurance, a system that seems to work efficiently while keeping costs under control.

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Protestors argue about the Affordable Healthcare Act outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 28, 2012 in Washington, DC.

For many Americans, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which makes health insurance mandatory, is a bitter pill to swallow. But after the Supreme Court upheld what is now popularly called ‘Obamacare‘ on June 28, Switzerland’s media greeted the decision as “a victory for common sense.”

Why should Americans listen to the Swiss? Because Switzerland’s healthcare model successfully delivers much of what the U.S is trying to achieve: universal coverage through mandatory private insurance. Unlike most European countries, the Swiss don’t have socialized medicine, though the government regulates the insurance industry and defines what health services must be offered — a generous package that includes doctor’s visits, hospital stays, medications, physical therapy, physician-ordered rehabilitation, and in-home nursing care. Under this law, which went into effect in 1996 to provide equal access to healthcare, everyone has to purchase a plan from one of 92 insurers. Employers don’t provide insurance, so people are free to shop around for coverage that fits their needs and not feel obligated to stay in a job solely for the health benefits it offers.

(READ: Ryan vs. Obama on Medicare: Why We Won’t Have an Actual Debate Over Where They Differ)

Depending on the deductible, the monthly premium for this basic package averages about $300 for adults, plus some co-pays, but it can’t exceed 8% of personal income; if it does, the government subsidizes the cost. (For comparison sake, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that in 2011, employer-sponsored health insurance in the U.S. was $5,429 for what it designates as “single coverage” and $15,9073 for “family coverage.”) Currently, roughly one-third of Swiss households — mainly single-parent families and immigrants — get some form of subsidy. Patients can choose any physician and there’s no wait to see specialists or have surgery. Insurers can’t turn anyone down or delay coverage due to age, medical history, or health risks. They are also not allowed to profit from the obligatory insurance but can make money on the optional supplemental coverage that includes alternative medicine and private hospital rooms.

So far, the system is running as smoothly as a Swiss watch and the patient satisfaction rate is high. In a 2010 Deloitte survey, more than half of Swiss respondents praised their healthcare system, compared to 21% to 43% of Americans, Britons and Canadians. In fact, grumbling about having to buy insurance is non-existent in Switzerland. At least part of the compliance may be cultural: the Swiss are extremely risk-averse and want to be insured if an illness or another calamity strikes. Today, 99% of the population is insured and when it comes to residents who aren’t — mostly new immigrants — the government can buy a health plan on their behalf and send them the bill.

“Switzerland’s system is superb: consumer-driven, cost-effective, and equitably distributed,” says Regina Herzlinger, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied the Swiss model extensively. “For quality care, patient satisfaction, and chronic disease management and prevention, the Swiss come out on top.” Indeed, Switzerland’s population is among the healthiest in the world. According to United Nations, they have the second-highest life expectancy in the world, while the United States lags behind in the 38th place, proving, perhaps, that the highest price tag — nearly $8,000 per person in healthcare spending each year in the U.S. — doesn’t guarantee the best or most equitable care.

(MORE: Why Obamacare Should Be Redesigned, But not Repealed)

Switzerland’s healthcare spending isn’t cheap either — it costs nearly $5,350 per resident. But while costs here have risen by roughly 3.5% for the past two years — reflected in annual premium hikes — an analysis conducted in 2010 by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that out of 29 countries it studied, Switzerland was among the most effective in getting better health outcomes for money spent. There are several reasons why Switzerland manages to control spending while keeping its population healthy: universal coverage reduces the need, and therefore the cost, for emergency room visits for non-urgent complaints, and the government regulates drug prices and fees for medical tests.

So is Switzerland a useful model for the U.S.? “The Swiss are among the wealthiest and most market-oriented people, and it’s not surprising that America should come up with a system much like theirs,” says Timothy S. Jost, professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law and expert on comparative health policy. Obamacare has many similarities with the Swiss system — like individual mandates and competition among private insurers — but there are also differences, Jost says. “Prices and benefit coverage are more highly regulated in Switzerland. Also, the U.S. system remains primarily employer-based and the Swiss isn’t.”

(COVER STORY: Roberts Rules)

98 comments
yonge78
yonge78

During the end of the day, while some will accuse Republicans of just performing partisan politics with their repeated attempts to repeal that the PPACA, some deeper look into their true American sentiment about that the new law tells a different story. Now it doesn't mean that America can't get this right, but generally there must stay a lengthy tough look at what we are trying to achieve here making sure their approach we are taking will get us in order to where we want to be because the nation. The way things look now, it doesn't appear that this law started down the correct path, but let us hope we can easily steer their ship right back upon course for everyone's sake. http://www.primeblog.us/2013/07/bulletproof-athlete.html

Stefan Metzeler
Stefan Metzeler

"

universal coverage reduces the need, and therefore the cost, for emergency room visits for non-urgent complaints"

Except that all those people who pay NOTHING, because their healthcare coverage is subsidized, use emergency rooms for standard visits, given that it is irrelevant to them!

Hence it has become IMPOSSIBLE to use emergency services, as the waiting time is now typically 4 to 8 hours!

And looking around the room, you immediately see what kind of people are clogging the system...

"and the government regulates drug prices and fees for medical tests"

They regulate the prices UP, by preventing competition and direct imports. Without government interference, those prices would go down by 40 to 60% at least.

.

Stefan Metzeler
Stefan Metzeler

My first message was censored, so let me try this again: The claim that Swiss people "love" the socialist healthcare system we now have is a joke!

If anyone tried to run a poll asking that question, the pollster would have to do a lot of running - away from people trying to hit him.

Making health insurance mandatory was a total, abysmal failure!

The justification for this totally unnecessary change was to "reduce the costs". Of course it achieved the exact opposite: costs increased exponentially!

+800% in just 16 years!

Before 1996, I could buy full healthcare coverage for 60 CHF per month. Now I pay almost 650 CHF for 2 adults and 1 baby - with the maximum deductible of 2'000 CHF per person and per year.

It's really a 650 CHF TAX on me and my family, as we practically never spend more than 2'000 CHF per year.

I absolutely HATE this system and so do 95% of the Swiss people, which is why there are constant reforms and attempts to fundamentally change the system. The only reason it hasn't been killed yet is because no one agrees on what to replace it with.

I'd suggest to use the Singapore model: private healthcare savings accounts with only catastrophic health insurance for exceptionally expensive or chronic operations covered by insurance.

Stefan Metzeler
Stefan Metzeler

How in the world can anyone claim that Swiss people "love" this EVIL BULLSHIT SYSTEM???

That's such an unbelievable lie!

Ever since this socialist crap was accepted, it has been universally hated!

Costs exploded by over 800% in just 16 years.

It is an utter, abysmal failure.

It is the constant subject of reforms, referenda etc.

NO ONE LIKES IT!

If anyone ran a poll asking "Do you like the healthcare system" in Switzerland, he would mostly be running away to avoid getting beaten up.

kbergm
kbergm

I don't think it matters, the tea party and the heritage foundation will spin numbers

because even if there is a "government solution" they won't believe it , much like a muslim won't believe jesus is the son of god, instead they will insist you are not a conservative and a "libtard" and your idea won't work because there is no solution, only capitalism and let alone will work wonders, the tea party movement is not really interested in finding proper solutions or even debating the merits rather lower taxes.

Royalist Humanist
Royalist Humanist

Swiss-Care? ... 

A medical doctor myself, a

graduate from a medical college in Pakistan and having postgrad studies and

some years hopital working experience in Uk amp; Ireland, I was in Swizerland

unde the force of circumstances. Diabetic on Insulin

injections, I once had a slight faint of an hypoglycemic attack during exercise

in a Swiss Gym. Ambulance was celled as the attendant boy thought I had a heart

attack, I was shifted to the main hospital of the city ; although I never

had a hear problem in my life. Doctors heard of an heart attack from the

abmulance man and without asking any question or making any diagnosis started

treating me with hear drugs, although ECG and blood tests were normal. When I

woke up from the shock of so many drugs, a cardiac surgein appeared and told me

that he wanted to do a cardiac byepass as he found some evidence on sone

ultrasound test, he had decided but only wanted a cerempnial yes fromm e as the

Insurance company had to pay the expenses. I refused; they wanted to force the operaation, I

raised hue and cry, so they had to stop. I suffered lots of psychiatric and

cardiac drugs without any diagnosis, and an ever-present danger of some

surgical operation or Pacemaker surgery which might have made me handicapp for

life and would have given thousands of dollars to the hospital and the surgeons,

as well as satisfied his superior-race ego by making another colored person a

handicap, as some known to me had earlier experienced. One evening while they

were planning some surgical procedure on minimum evidence and without any

diagnosis at all, i ran away from the hospital. They sent some paramilitary

staff to bring me back, I ran away from the backdoor of my apartment and stayed

in a hotel for few days. It is one year, I still never had any heart problem,

and I am licky to be alive and still un-handicapped.

bzelbub
bzelbub

All this points out why I like Wisconsin's Badger Care program for low income people. I am even glad about the $92. a month (based on my income as a self employed person) state backed insurance program. Originally started as a bipartisan insurance program several years ago, and oddly enough Scott Walker, has kept it going. Now if they covered dentist bills too ...

Benny Muratovic
Benny Muratovic

I don't get what people don't understand about strict constitutionalism conservative in America. We follow a system of federalism and there fore the responsibility or choice  of government intervention in the health care market is up to the states. The states dominated with liberal populations can set up their government intervened health care systems while the ones with more conservative will not. Why the need to amalgamate all close to 400 million people living in the US to one system? Why compare a country that has states with bigger populations than the countries with the government intervened systems? I find it highly arrogant that those who want this giant health care system placed on everyone think they know what is best for everyone.

Chinga_Tu_Madre
Chinga_Tu_Madre

Hey idiots and parrots, we know the U.S is no Switzerland, so thanks for the geography lesson! BUT, maybe, perhaps other countries have something to teach us about keeping their citizens medically covered and healthy? 

Perhaps we can learn to control pharmaceutical companies to the benefit of society?

Maybe we can keep medical treatment from bankrupting households?

No? You people are unreal.Now what the hell does that have to do with Obama-care?

flyovermark
flyovermark

I guess Helena Bachmann must have missed the part where the Supreme Court found Obamacare's individual mandate to purchase health insurance, as is required of Swiss subjects, was unconstitutional, and that it was the tax on "going without insurance" that was upheld. Much as progressives would prefer a central government to rule over the masses - as the Swiss masses are ruled - this ain't Europe, this ain't Canada, and this ain't the Soviet Union. This is America

Obamacare is tyranny. 

James1754
James1754

Only one problem, we don't live in Switzerland!  Nice propaganda piece, but I do not think the majority of Americans want Obamacare.

Tina Ferrer
Tina Ferrer

Then move to Switzerland Ms. Bachmann and if you’re already a citizen I'm very happy for you. I know Switzerland, I like Switzerland but Switzerland is no United States of America Ms. Bachmann. Pass that word along to Mr. Obama if you would. Thank you..

kazzer66
kazzer66

The population of Switzerland is about 8 million people,  compared to the US 300 million plus spread among 50 states and US territories.  The Swiss healthcare system sounds absolutely NOTHING like Obamacare.

GarandFan
GarandFan

The Swiss system is not  'similar' to ObamaCare.  

Masters3
Masters3

There are a few facts missing from this article. Switzerland has a population of only 8 million, 1.7 million immigrants. Yearly income 70,000. Country revenues 222 billion. Country expenses 216 billion. Hardly comparable to the USA with 16 trillion debt and only 47% of workers pay taxes. Unemployment 9% and Obama just started registering another 2 million illegal immigrants. Ah what the heck, free healthcare for all.

Masters3
Masters3

Here are a few facts left out of the article. Population of Switzerland, 8 million. Per capita income 70,000 per year. Country revenues 222 billion per year. Country expenses 216 billion per year. Of the 8 million residents only 1.7 million are immigrants. Hardly comparable to The USA and our 16 trillion in debt and only half the workers pay taxes.

Chris Lockhart
Chris Lockhart

Yet another reason to thank the cosmos that we are not Switzerland.

JR48
JR48

A population of 8 million cannot be extrapolated to a population of 300 million.  It's like comparing a whale to a guppy, let alone not addressing the whole American 'freedom' thing.

Jaeson Jrakman
Jaeson Jrakman

Uh huh.  And how much of this kind of social experimentation would the Swiss be able to engage in if we pulled all of our forces out of Europe forcing Switzerland to fund their own defense?

If we don't repeal the despotic ObamaCare dictate, they just may have to.

ge13031
ge13031

As soon as you start with the "Obamacare" I turn off.   Do you really mean that the president did do the Swiss healthcare package ??????  After all everything else is his fault.

babycheeks
babycheeks

I suspect a difference also is the culture of greed here in the USA. Doctors become millionaires, billions are made by the hospitals, drug companies, drug store chains and in some areas pharmacists have a starting wage higher than starting MDs. Then throw on top of that the billions made by the insurance industry. Too many people making too much money before the patient is even cared for to have affordable health care in the USA.  It can't be done  with so many pigs being fed.

smooth edward
smooth edward

Let’s not forget the Swiss can choose among 92 different insurance companies. Unlike here where one or two insurance companies increasingly monopolize the industry.

smooth edward
smooth edward

The great things about the Swiss system is doctors accept chocolate for payment. Plus, they’ll tell what time it is for free.

ChefDarrell
ChefDarrell

Has the author tried to extrapolate the numbers to fit the US?

It's alot easier for Switzerland to manage coverage for 8 million people than it is for the US to manage coverage for 311 million. And telling companies they cannot operate at a profit is counter to the American way.

commwagg24
commwagg24

Just one really quick question, how many major health care products have been invented in Switzerland?  Really if they control drug prices do they control the cost of creating the new drug? Or do the just depend on other free markets to create all the drugs that their country uses.

Stefan Metzeler
Stefan Metzeler

The Singapore model, where everyone has to bear part of the cost of treatment up to the level where they can't afford it, implies that they spend only 4% of their GDP on healthcare, yet they have an average life span of 82 years, almost a world record and about 1 year longer than in Switzerland!

So we overspend by about 7% of our GDP, because we adopted an idiotic socialist system...

CatNews
CatNews

I don't know what exactly happened to you, but I can tell you I was treated in both USA and Switzerland, had outpatient surgeries in both countries, and found Swiss care vastly superior, more humane, and much less expensive.

hydroxide
hydroxide

You don't really grasp the political system of Switzerland, do you? Pointing out that the US follows a system of federalism is admitting that you know nothing about Swiss cantons. Incidentally: Inhabitants of the Canton of Zurich: Over 1.3 Million. Just under double that of  North Dakota. Inhabitants of the Canton of Berne: 974,000 - just shy of Montana. 

I find it highly arrogant that some people believe they can make human sacrifices on the altar of their ideology. And I find it nauseating when these people adorn themselves with attitudes such as pro-life, Christian and all the other designations they carry like a monstrance in front of them but spit on from the back. I find it highly arrogant when these people believe that for the sake of their political ideology, they need not bother themselves with empiricism, or with the fact that the US has a childbed mortality rate that befits a developing nation.

This has nothing to do with constitutionalism, or with the values of the founding fathers. The founding fathers declared life an unalienable right and he who believes that people should rather die than he budge one iota from his ideology are stripping people of their right to life by the thousands each year.

Schnegg
Schnegg

@flyovermark I'm laughing out loud. To say that the Swiss are ruled by their government proves only that you have no clue what you're talking about. Switzerland is one of the very few pure democracies. Any individual can intervene directly on any issue simply by starting a petition and gathering enough signatures. With enough signatures, a national vote is mandatory. So it's exactly the opposite - the masses rule the government.

CatNews
CatNews

No need to be nasty to the writer, people. It's like killing the messenger because you don't like the message.

keninil
keninil

 Right! This plan is somewhat similar to Ryan's replacement for Medicare for under 55s.

hydroxide
hydroxide

Perhaps you do a bit of math and realize that with that number of inhabitants, the percentage of immigrants is whopping. And where does it say anything about FREE healthcare?

hydroxide
hydroxide

"

Of the 8 million residents only 1.7 million are immigrant*

You sure you wanted to say "only"?

CatNews
CatNews

Hmmm, that's probably what the Swiss say about the US: thank the cosmos we are not America.

Chinga_Tu_Madre
Chinga_Tu_Madre

Yes! They're wealthy, healthy, happy and don't burn money fighting useless wars while at the same time creating more enemies. Thank god we're not the Swiss.

pjean
pjean

What idiots can even compare the two nations?

Chinga_Tu_Madre
Chinga_Tu_Madre

Ha ha ha...apparently you know sh*t about Switzerland, the U.S, and defense policy!

CatNews
CatNews

Since when does the U.S fund Switzerland's defense? Switzerland is a neutral country. They do have a small military, which they finance themselves.

I wish people got their facts straight before commenting on here.

RaptorRyu
RaptorRyu

@babycheeks 
haha, while I don't agree or disagree with anything you said (though I agree that greed is bad). Have you ever asked a EUROPEAN about Switzerland and greed? 

keninil
keninil

And now ObamaCare wants to add another layer of govt $200K/yr bureaucrats -- appointed by their friends, who do not participate in ObamaCare.  There is a good reason Congress and the Executive dept. are not included in ObamaCare -- it sucks.

Jeff Frank
Jeff Frank

 " And telling companies they cannot operate at a profit is counter to the American way."

Not really... it just means that insurance companies would become, roughly, the equivalent of many public utilities, which are usually regulated on how much profit they can make through their base product (eg, natural gas).  Those same companies can open non-regulated subsidiaries that operate in ancillary businesses (eg, sale and repair of furnaces) to prop up the bottom line.

CatNews
CatNews

Just because it's counter to the "American way" doesn't make it wrong. The American way screwed up the healthcare system in the U.S. There's nothing wrong in foregoing profits for the good of the people. And anyway, no need to feel sorry for insurance companies, they still make plenty of money on supplemental insurance.

Jeff Necessary
Jeff Necessary

Two of the five largest pharmaceutical companies in the world are based in Switzerland -- the same number as are based in the US (the fifth one is English). Their products include Valium, Tamiflu, Klonopin, Diovan, Ritalin, Lamisil and a few others that a lot of people in the US are taking.

CatNews
CatNews

Roche is a Swiss pharmaceutical company, one of the largest in the world. You can look at their website to see how many medications they produce and export to the USA. So is Novartis - if you have a flu shot every year, chances are they manufacture it. Do you consider hearing aids "healthcare" products? If so, world's best hearing devices are produced in Switzerland. They also  pioneered many hi-tech surgical procedures.

This is just a partial list. Does this answer your question?

RaptorRyu
RaptorRyu

@hydroxide 

 'immigration' does not equal illegal immigration. I hope you know that. There is a difference and illegal 'immigration' is a very misleading term. The actual definition is 'illegal alien' because, legally speaking,  they're technically not immigrants.

ElkeMcCauley
ElkeMcCauley

@pjean You compare and you adopt what you like. It's called being open-minded...

RaptorRyu
RaptorRyu

@CatNews 

Welcome to the internet.

James1754
James1754

 Actually the "American Way" did not screw up the health cared system.  Government regulation did that for us.

And the reason an insurance company is in business is to make money.  Far fetched idea, I know, but that is why companies are in business.

JR48
JR48

Thanks for sharing your opinion, but others have ones the opposite of your's and are just as valid.   That's the deal with freedom and opinions. We're all free to believe what we want to.  You think one way, others think another.  We're both right for ourselves...the issue becomes sticky when you want to legislate your opinion upon someone else.

Talendria
Talendria

Agreed.  I've always thought it was slimy that we've turned health care into an industry.  We're deliberately profiting from sick people.  That's disgusting.  And I agree with you that the health care industry could still make lots of money from supplemental insurance, definitely not as much as they make now, but as someone else pointed out there are too many pigs at the trough.

ChefDarrell
ChefDarrell

Try to get that instituted and let me know how it works.

For the good of the people? How very utopian of you. Try forgoing a paycheck for the good of your employer.

Never said I feel sorry for insurance companies. Just wondering if the author did the math.

Centinel
Centinel

 What matters is where these leading pharmaceutical companies make their profits, not where they are "headquartered."

And the reality is that the profits available in the United States drives much of biomedical innovation.   Canada, Australia, and Western Europe would not enjoy the same high level of medical care if the US did not exist.   

commwagg24
commwagg24

If you want to look where Roche is truely "located" it is the US.  Valium was invented in New Jersey. Tamiflu was created by Gilead sciences of the US.    With multi national companies we all know that it is very difficult to actually nail down were there are from.  I bet both of those pharmaceutical companies would change headquarters to a country that offered a large enough tax cut.  The point is that no company is going to put all of the money into research and delvolpment into a new product and not be able to make their money back. and that includes pharmaceuticals.  Also almost all research done for the Flu shots have been done by Universities in the United States. 

Even then you miss the point that the sell there products in the US, if they didn't, they wouldn't have the profits to continue to develop new drugs.

Centinel
Centinel

 You are not addressing the key issue.   

Yes, as a formal matter Roche is a Swiss company.    But without the ability to market and make money in the United States it would not produce nearly so many innovations and medical improvements. 

RaptorRyu
RaptorRyu

@ElkeMcCauley 

Except that it doesn't work that way. Do you honestly think every country is built the same as America, with the same types of laws and regulations?

hydroxide
hydroxide

Why don't you go to Basel. or Grenzach on the German side, and actually have a look? There's plenty of research going on there. For that matter, Novartis also has a research institute there which is the hub of a network operating internationally. 

But back to Roche, it is actually a holding for two companies, a pharmaceutical one and a diagnostic one - and plenty of the diagnostics work is also happening in Switzerland.

CatNews
CatNews

And what does this have to do with the subject at hand, which is universal healthcare coverage?

commwagg24
commwagg24

And we haven't even gotten to the cost for the country.  It's like no one knows the first law of economics; Scarcity; There is never enough of anything to satisfy all of those that want it.

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