NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 5, 2008

If universal coverage can work anywhere, it should be Sweden, a small, homogenous nation where poverty is virtually unknown.  Yet problems there have begun to undermine a health care system that dates back to the 1930s, when Social Democrats began to assemble a welfare state, says Investor's Business Daily (IBD).

According to European think tank Health Consumer Powerhouse (HCP) in its Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index 2008:

  • Waiting times for care, long a problem in Sweden and too often deadly wherever they're found, are now the longest on the Continent.
  • While Sweden excels at medical outcomes, it is really bad (and worsening!) at accessibility and service.

Long waits are a hallmark of government health care anywhere it's employed.  When the perception exists that treatment is free (it is not; Swedes pay more than half their gross income in taxes to support the welfare state), system overuse is inevitable.  People can think of no reason to self-ration care.  They show up in emergency rooms and doctor's offices with conditions for which they wouldn't seek treatment if they paid directly at the time of service, says IBD.

Swedes are accustomed to cradle-to-grave care provided by the state.  But rather than deal with long waits, they're opting for private care, which got a boost from limited reform in the 1990s.  In private care, patients self-regulate and put less stress on the system.

Thanks to the profit motive, private health care providers have an incentive to cut waiting times, lest they lose customers to the competition.  Government providers have no such motivation, says IBD.

Source: Editorial, "Lines For Swedish Care Grow Longer," Investor's Business Daily, February 4, 2008.

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