Swiss Health Care: An Inspiring Model
Alpine mountain air, it seems, does wonders for health care policy. In fact, it turns out that if you live among the Alps in Switzerland, you can get health care that is superior in virtually all measures when compared to the U.S. health system: As of 1996, the Swiss have universal coverage (provided by heavily regulated third-party insurers, not by the government); spend 10 percent of GDP for health care (versus our 18 percent), yet they are healthier; and, their primary care system is pervaded by the principles of natural medicine—as illustrated in a personal account provided below by a former Swiss citizen. In sum, the Swiss do it like a good European should: significant government regulation in the public interest, combined with extensive use of new-paradigm medicine.
“By many measures, the Swiss are healthier than Americans,” writes the New York Times in a recent article (see link below), “and surveys indicate that Swiss people are generally happy with their system . . . Swiss insurance companies offer the mandatory basic plan on a not-for-profit basis, although they are permitted to earn a profit on supplemental plans.” (See link below.) The Swiss system regulates drug prices, fees for tests, and medical devices. And they subsidize households with direct cash payments if their health insurance equals more than eight percent of personal income. The upshot is that everyone gets access to the system, young and old, and everyone pays an affordable portion in to the insurance pool (including employers in some cases), the Times reported.
Aside from easy access to cheese, what’s it like to be Swiss and use Swiss health care on a routine basis? Oddly, the Times entirely failed to cover a key aspect of the Swiss health care system: its extensive use of “complementary and alternative medicine.” This rich account below, offered by Caroline Cole of Walnut Creek, CA, fills in that gap in reporting. Caroline is a former long-time resident of the central European country who recently moved to the states. Here's her story:
“Living in Switzerland for over 25 years, and raising a family there, I became very comfortable with using complimentary and alternative medicine—in fact, my family and I used it almost exclusively. Every Swiss village, town, and city offers access to free advice and consultation in shops called ‘Drogeries.’ And no, they didn’t dispense drugs. Far from it. In fact, their shelves were filled with natural, organic, and highly nutritional foodstuffs and teas, flower remedies for the emotions, minerals for the bones, creams of lavender and camomile, and homeopathy for the ills. Whenever a family member had a symptom, either physical or emotional, I’d simply walk down to the corner Drogerie. Whether it was a sore throat or cough, an allergy, difficulty sleeping, stress-related skin conditions, or simply moodiness—there was always a helpful and educated “Drogistin” (saleswoman) on hand to offer advice, and listen to my needs and specific situation. The factor of environmental and psychological circumstances were always part of the discussion.
“After a comprehensive Q & A session, the ‘Drogistin’ would offer several options, for example, anthroposophic medicine (based on Rudolph Steiner’s teachings), “Spagyrik” (Swiss herb essences), or Bach Flower remedies. Each likely remedy would be described, its effect and its dosage. We would make a decision, and then I’d watch how she carefully measured and mixed the healing liquids. I grew to feel complete trust in each Drogistin I encountered, as each one had three or four years of formal education and training, and in many cases, years of experience.
“What a comfort it was—especially when the kids were young—to know there was a natural remedy for just about everything, and educated free advice as well! I loved these shops and would sometimes spend hours looking at the shelves, reveling in the sheer variety of available nature-based products. I was in complete awe of the Drogistins, secretly wishing I were privy to all that historical reference material and deep wisdom of a Swiss education in health and healing.
“I’m now living in the U.S., but I believe I owe the excellent health of my family to those amazing women, and to a national health system that is specifically structured to ensure the wellness of everyone. The Swiss Drogeries helped keep me healthy over all those 25 years; they allowed me to raise my children without antibiotics, pain killers, or chemicals of any kind.
“My dream is that, someday, the U.S. or local governments will come to their senses and provide our citizens this kind of accessibility to preventive complimentary care. Americans must come together and fight the powers that insist on keeping them ill and dependent on drugs.”
Nelson Schwartz, “Swiss Health Care Thrives Without Public Option,” September 30, 2009, The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/01/health/policy/01swiss.html?hp