Health Care

'Socialist' Swedes Take to Private Health Insurance

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Growth of private health insurance in Sweden
Svensk Försäkring

Sweden, a country famous for a welfare state that has actually been trimmed back substantially in recent years, is experiencing a phenomenon unlikely to bring cheer to those Americans who think the answer to Obamacare's problems is more government involvement in medicine. Tired of long waits and inadequate care, Swedes increasingly purchase private health insurance policies to gain access to the care the state can't provide.

According to Sweden's insurance trade industry organization, Svensk Försäkring:

The number of private health care insurance policies has increased in recent years. In 2011 about 440,000 people had private health care insurance. Most of these people have their policy paid by their employer.

The trend continues, with the English-language The Local reporting last week that "One in ten Swedes now has private health insurance." The site also says, "More than half a million Swedes now have private health insurance," though that seems to refer to the growth in the number of policies, with many more of the country's 9.5 million people actually covered by private insurance.

Why the growth? From The Local:

"It's quicker to get a colleague back to work if you have an operation in two weeks' time rather than having to wait for a year," privately insured Anna Norlander told Sveriges Radio on Friday. "It's terrible that I, as a young person, don't feel I can trust the health care system to take care of me."

In a separate article about Sweden's shrinking welfare state, The Local also noted that "visitors are sometimes surprised to learn about year-long waiting times for cancer patients."

Reason's Matthew Feeney noted in June that Sweden's welfare-state period was something of a brief interlude.

Up until the 1970s Sweden had strong market-oriented policies in place that increased wealth and standards of living thanks to reforms introduced at the end of the 19th century. These Swedish market reforms were wide ranging, impacting both business and law. Property rights were enforced, the government was limited, regulation was light, and a private banking sector flourished.

The cradle-to-grave services implemented in the 1970s proved unaffordable starting in the 1990s.

In the years following the 1990s crisis, Sweden has deregulated whole industries and encouraged the privatization of public services. One Swedish hospital is listed on the stock exchange while the country's education system is the most market-friendly in the word, with a popular voucher program and for-profit schools.

"Income tax in Sweden is now lower than in France, Belgium and Denmark," says The Local, "and public spending as a share of GDP has declined from a record 71.0 percent in 1993 to 53.3 percent last year."

And, of course, Swedes are turning to private medicine to escape the long lines and poor service of the government health system that has been unable to deliver what it once promised.