Swedish Health Care Crumbling

I recently got pulled into a debate on Facebook over health reform, and encountered yet another American liberal who still thinks Sweden is the perfect role model for the United States. I offered him to help him emigrate to Sweden, including setting up job interviews, contacting the embassy for a work visa and finding a place to live. He dropped out of the conversation somewhere between the job interview and the embassy.

Today’s article is a tribute to him and all the people around the world how believe that Sweden is the epitome of a happy society where all social and economic problems are solved. The Local reports on the state of the socialized Swedish single-payer health care system:

One in ten Swedes now has private health insurance, often through their employers, with some recipients stating it makes business sense to be seen quickly rather than languish in national health care queues. More than half a million Swedes now have private health insurance, showed a new review from industry organization Swedish Insurance (Svensk Försäkring). In eight out of ten cases, the person’s employer had offered them the private insurance deal. “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.”

That would be the tax-funded, government-run health care system, the performance of which I have chronicled in my book Remaking America.

Back to The Local:

The insurance plan guarantees that she can see a specialist within four working days, and get a time for surgery, if needed, within 15. In December, the queues in the Swedish health care system pushed the country down a European ranking of healthcare. “Why can Albania operate its healthcare services with practically zero waiting times, and Sweden cannot?” the report authors from the Health Consumer Powerhouse (HCP) organization in Brussels asked

Ironically, the Albanian health care system beats the Swedish system because the Albanian government has failed on the health care front even more than the Swedish government has. Here is one description of it, from a source that generally seems to be reliable but which I have not explored in depth yet:

All citizens are entitled by law to equal access to healthcare. Healthcare is funded by the state and private practice is limited to a small niche sector. The state system is supposed to be funded through insurance contributions from those employed and their employers, but poverty in Albania is rife and few can afford to pay. The net result is that many people fail to get much needed medicine and medical care to treat their ailments. The failure to collect a substantial amount of contributions means that healthcare system is strongly reliant on charitable aid for medical supplies and drugs.

If this is a correct assessment of the problems in the Albanian system, the charitable contributions are what make the system work. An increased penetration of private initiatives helps circumvent rigid, centralized bureaucracies. While, again, I am not entirely sure of the source, the explanation of how the Albanian system apparently works has many resemblances to how Polish health care worked in the early post-Communist days. Since the Albanian system originally is of the same nature as the one Poland used to have, it is reasonable to assume that europe-cities.com got this one right.

Given that Albania’s health care works as described, it is startling to see how the Swedes continue to maintain their rigid single-payer system. The Local again:

Sweden aims to make sure people can see their general practitioner within one week, which the organization said was a modest goal in and of itself. “The target for maximum wait in Sweden to see your primary care doctor (no more than seven days) is underachieved only by Portugal, where the corresponding figure is 15 days,” the report stated. Health system wait times in Sweden were deemed so lengthy that they pulled Sweden down the European ranking despite the country having technically advanced healthcare at its disposal. “The Swedish score for technically excellent healthcare services is, as ever, dragged down by the seemingly never-ending story of access/waiting time problems,” the reported noted, underlining that the national efforts to guarantee patient care had not helped to cut the delays significantly.

There is a very good reason for this. The “efforts” to reduce waiting lists have primarily been concentrated on passing bills in the national legislature that basically says “you have the right to health care, and if you don’t get health care before you die of your illness, then you really have the right to health care.” In addition to such decisive, world-changing legislative action, there has been a whisking-around of existing health care funding. One day more money is use to treat heart patients, another day it is removed from there and allocated to treat children with cancer. Etc.

This is the of one of the world’s most rigid, most socialized health care systems. Not only do cancer patients often have to wait more than 100 days for treatment, but nobody keeps track of all those who die waiting. There are indirect measures of the wait-list mortality rate, but so far I have not found any comprehensive, internationally established measurements. Regardless, when opportunity arises I will return to this issue even if it is concentrated to Sweden. A high mortality rate among patients waiting for treatment in a socialized system is a clear indicator of an ideological choice: the principle of single payer is put above the life and wellness of the individual patient.