Should we look to Switzerland as the picture of health (care)?

By Emily Hutto


The SCOTUS decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) provoked a good deal of discussion about Switzerland's health care in the media. While many liken American and Swiss health care systems, others are pointing out their stark differences. All of the press is proving that health care is just as much a political issue as it is a cultural one.

Switzerland residents have been required to buy health insurance since 1996, and according to an LA Times blog, the Swiss health care system is most similar to that laid out in PPACA. Switzerland was often cited as a promising model during debates about the act.

Forbes published a similar article about a year ago by Avik Roy titled "Why Switzerland has the world's best health care system" that points out that health expenditures per capita in Switzerland are the third highest in the world behind the United States and Norway. And yet, he says government spending on health care in Switzerland is only 2.7 percent of their GDP.

"By contrast, in 2008, U.S. government spending on health care was 7.4 percent of GDP," says Roy. "If the U.S. could move its state health spending to Swiss levels, it would save more than $700 billion a year."

Roy goes on to point out that there are not government-run or employer-sponsored health care programs in Switzerland. Neaerly all (99.5 percent) of Swiss citizens have health insurance — they buy their own health coverage, and usually opt for plans with low deductibles.

The LA Times blog points out a few more differences between American and Swiss health care: Switzerland does not have Medicare and Medicaid programs specifically for the elderly, and Swiss insurers do not profit from insurance sales.

The biggest difference between American and Swiss health care programs? The reaction of citizens. Wheras America is heatedly debating what some call the legislative decision of the century, Switzerland didn't do much to resist the laws. When it comes to government-mandated health care, the Swiss stay neutral. Go figure.

Editor's Note: The statistic from Forbes cited above comes from an opinion article. More accurate information about Switzerland's GDP spending on health care can be found here.