Switzerland debates 50-franc charge for non-urgent visits to the emergency room

Switzerland debates 50-franc charge for non-urgent visits to the emergency room

In an effort to ease the pressure off hospitals in Switzerland, a commission within the Swiss government has put forward a plan that would see patients with minor illnesses fined if they visit the emergency room. The Swiss medical establishment is critical of the plan.

Swiss hospitals at breaking point in recent months

In recent months, a combination of a lack of workers and a rise in the number of disease outbreaks after the COVID pandemic has put extra pressure on the Swiss healthcare system. Several emergency departments, like those in Valais, Zurich and Basel, have been forced to halt admissions at one time or another because there was simply not enough room. In January, the Limmattal hospital in Canton Zurich reported a 15 percent increase in admissions compared to the same time in 2021.

To solve the problem, the Health Commission of the National Council has put forward two plans to relieve emergency departments in Switzerland. The aim, according to the commission, is to provide a financial incentive to non-urgent patients so that they avoid the emergency room altogether.

50-franc charge for non-urgent visits to emergency

The first plan would see patients pay an “incentive fee” of 50 Swiss francs if they go to the emergency room when they do not have an emergency condition - although what constitutes an “emergency condition” is yet to be confirmed. The second approach would see the patient's deductible for their health insurance increased by 50 francs if they visit the emergency room without being sent by a doctor, telemedical centre or pharmacist.

Supporters were quick to mention that pregnant women and those under the age of 16 would be exempt from the new rule.

"There are too many cases in the emergency room that are not real emergencies," noted National Councillor Thomas Aeschi. Speaking to 20 Minuten, he said that therefore, “a triage system with an emergency tax is important. The system is relatively simple and a fee of 50 francs is comparatively moderate. Anyone entering a hospital in Dubai or in the US with a heart attack must first show their credit card."

General public in Switzerland don't know what an emergency is, opponents argue

However, despite passing the committee, the idea faces strong opposition from elements of parliament and from within the medical community, with National Councillor Barbara Gysi telling the newspaper that a fee would be “useless". "We will do everything we can to ensure that this is rejected," she affirmed, noting that the charge itself may even be against the law.

Yvonne Gilli, President of the Association of Swiss Doctors, said that on top of meaning extra admin work for hospitals, the problem with the charge is that most people do not know what a medical emergency looks like and could avoid getting treatment as a result. "An emergency that is misjudged to be trivial can cause significant additional costs and consequential damage… Rather, people should be empowered to help themselves or to get help in the right place," she concluded.

Image: / Luciavonu

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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