A friend recently sent me a Washington Post, Matt Miller article, “Why Liberals Should Drop the Public Option”, that featured the Swiss universal health care plan, which uses private health insurance companies exclusively and is successful and economic; my friend, who knew I lived in Switzerland for 5 years asked, “Is this true?” Here is my response:

You ask, is this true?

Since you asked, I will say that I am not particularly impressed with Matt Miller’s article; I don’t really know what makes him an expert on universal medical care but I am not impressed with his reasoning.

When I lived in Switzerland, I was required to be insured by law in order to validate my resident visa (before they would issue the visa).  I could buy any approved plan from any insurance company in Switzerland.  I bought a plan like I have now at Kaiser Permanente (using their doctors, etc.) except that Kaiser is a nonprofit corporation and my Swiss insurance company was a for profit corporation to my knowledge.  I used the benefits a number of times, for gout, flu, pneumonia, tranquillizers and such and I never paid any copayments.  I had a number of prescriptions filled and never paid for a prescription.  My premium from 2000 to 2005 was 75 Swiss Francs/month.  I liked the Swiss doctors (2 different ones) better than most of the ones that I had in America and was quite satisfied with the quality of care in Switzerland.

After I moved back to the USA and I was visiting Switzerland, I got pneumonia while there and went to my same old doctor (a wonderful female doctor) and she treated me, sent me a bill me since I had no insurance, and I paid her company the actual costs of care (much less than if I had been in the USA).

Now, I must say that I did approve of the Swiss system.  The insurance companies are rigorously controlled by the government and take pride in providing affordable care.  Doctors and patients are happy with it.  But Swiss insurance companies are not at all like American insurance companies; Swiss health care insurance companies are trustworthy and regulated.  American corporations are notorious for violating regulations when they had regulations and when the American corporations were not regulated, they chose to violate the law.  This is simply a historic fact: Aetna, Enron, etc.; check the lawsuits.

In America, when I retired, I received a golden handshake including an annuity for life (purchased from National Life Insurance Company) and the holder of the annuity went bankrupt; it does not pay to have faith in corporate America.

The Swiss do not worry about socialization.  Their post office is more than a post office; it is a bank, a bus company, a post office, and it used to have the nationalized telephone system.  The Swiss trains are nationalized and they have a fantastic railroad and public transportation system; we had a car in Switzerland and I never drove it, in five years.  SwissAir was a national airline and the Swiss, following the America trend, privatized it and the mismanaged airline went bankrupt.  Swisscom, the national telephone company, is now forced to compete with private companies and it is a mess just like America’s; everyone I knew used Swisscom the government phone system.

So what I am saying is that the Swiss could have a government run health care system and no one would worry about it being socialistic and in Switzerland, the Swiss trust and respect the government and also keep a close eye on it because hell hath no fury like a Swiss angry at the government.  The Swiss post office and train system break their butts to be helpful to the people because they work for the people; it is their work ethic..  But that is Swiss culture and nothing like American culture where everyone seems to hate the government and call it names like liar, fascist, communist, oddly enough only when it isn’t.  The Swiss privatized health care system works because the insurance companies are ethical and trustworthy and regulated.

The Swiss privatized health care plan won’t work in America because the problem now is that many of the largest insurance companies have a tendency to be criminal (look at the lawsuits that health insurance companies like Aetna, have lost) and cannot be trusted and patients have had to sue the insurance company to get their benefits.  Plus too many American corporations are basically corrupt and going bankrupt every day and it is the employees and small stock holders and clients, in this case health insurance policy holders, who get screwed. If a health care insurance company in America goes broke, it is going to be the policy holders who get screwed.

When America’s Constitutional forefathers instituted the US Postal System, it was because they believed that communication was too important to trust to private companies (note the 10th Amendment was not a barrier to the U.S. Postal Service and why should it be a factor in universal health care). Would someone please inform the Republicans of this.

The Swiss health care insurance companies work more like the old American “public corporations” than purely privatized health care.  A “public Corporation” is when a corporation like AT&T in the old days, is given a monopoly by the government and then is carefully regulated and profits are regulated by the government, like America’s telephones used to be.  When the government deregulated and broke up AT&T, it was AT&T who was all for it; that should give you some idea of who the breakup benefitted.

Obama is trying to implement something like the Swiss universal health care program but with a government option to set the standard.  Personally, I don’t trust American corporations in the way I trusted Swiss corporations.  The difference is this:

Swiss corporations are organized to perform services and make a reasonable profit doing so. American corporations are organized to make a profit and provide services as cheaply as possible to maximize profits, Wal-Mart style.

Another difference is the cultures.  To the Swiss, being professional and admired for it is considered superior to being wealthy.  In America it is the other way around, CEOs are honored (with bonuses?) based on income generated.

The Swiss are finding out the hard way that when they accept and try to duplicate American ideas, it can destroy their institutions.  That is what happened to Swiss Air, the Swiss national airline; the Swiss were proud of their nationalized airline. Then they partially privatized it and it went broke because of mismanagement. Swiss Air was replaced by a privatized Swiss International Airline; Swiss International has been bought out by Luftansa, the German nationalized  Airline.  The Swiss no longer have a national airline.

Matt Miller is only considering the outward appearances of Swiss Universal Health Care.  The only reason the Swiss are organized that way is because it works for them in their culture; with the Swiss, they could care less whether it is privatized or nationalized so long as it works for the people.  (And, the national pastime for the Swiss is complaining; the squeaky wheel gets the oil.).  The people rule; Swiss are not chauvinistic but the Swiss are exceedingly patriotic and trust their government. In contrast, Americans think their government is untrustworthy, inept, and cannot provide affordable medical care.

The Swiss have national referendums on everything.  America does not have national referendums, though could at times profit from national referendums. For example, in 2008, a pseudo referendum took place when a vast majority of Americans voted for Democrats who promised health care reform; America is still struggling to get health care reform. If the Swiss vote for something in a national referendum, it is done immediately.

Sorry, I wrote a book and you wanted a simple answer but the answer is not simple.

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