Public Policy Contributor Brad Flansbaum writes…
Oft cited as a template on which to base U.S. health reform (along with the Dutch system), I have always found the Swiss model of great interest. I read with allure an interview with Switzerland’s former health minister, Thomas Zeltner, in the latest edition of Health Affairs (firewall). As a primer for those unfamiliar with the Swiss system, I commend this nice review written by Uwe Reinhardt from JAMA in 2004. They transformed their system in 1996 using a highly regulated model of managed competition—with an all in approach encompassing exclusively private payers.
Frequently, reformers tout the Swiss model as an “all juice, no squeeze” affair, blemish free and a win-win for all. The candor and honesty expressed by Dr. Zeltner is rousing and a necessary read for those interested in our reform law, its evolution, and the stumbles we might face.
Of note, his proudest achievement is the slow conversion of the country’s populace to the social solidarity model (the interviewer tees up one of her questions with a telling sentiment: “The Swiss are known for jealously guarding their individual freedom, too, yet they accept their own mandate to have adequate health insurance”). The individual mandate is currently a contentious debate in our country, but I was heartened to see that change is possible in a nation similar to ours, at least as individualism goes.
Surprisingly, he cites lack of transparency, poor QI infrastructure, little in the way of preventive care, and real dissatisfaction amongst primary care docs as disappointments under his tenure. This was news to me, and again, given all the positive press, it was refreshing to see how far they have to go and what still needs accomplishing.
Regardless, the give and take is terrific and you can glean a lot from this piece. I will leave you with what I thought was the money passage:
“Reforming the health care system is like fixing an airplane that is in the air. It’s repairing an engine at full speed, and you’re not allowed to let the airplane crash.
That’s the reason why I believe you have to advance very carefully, step by step. You can’t make a revolution in the health care system, because a revolution would, at least for a couple of months or years, block a system expected to function 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. It’s like a Swiss watch. It has to function day by day with a high degree of precision. But when it needs repair, you can’t just drop it at the watchmaker’s shop and wait until it is fixed in three, four weeks. That’s, I think, the big challenge.
Two parallel processes need to be handled: working on a national consensus about the long-term perspective, and implementing measures along the way. Our experience is that people in the trenches can’t absorb too many reform steps at once. So when it comes to implementation of universal coverage, if you succeed in getting 92, 93 percent of your population into the system, that may already be OK. Then do the rest later. Maybe the problem of your illegal immigrants is just something you can’t solve in the first step. But you have the vision of universal coverage at the end—you keep that as your objective, but the end can be 2020.
I’m convinced that a country like the U.S., with the incredible assets you have, needs a health system with equal and fair access for all citizens. And finally, in your case, it’s true, too: You need to invest in a healthy population to remain prosperous.”
Very wise words indeed!
Extra credit: What is a canton?