Usually in Sweden you have a local clinic or a general practitioner who you go to first for your health problems. They can put you on sick leave, but if your problem requires a specialist, they send a referral. The problem is that it can take a very long time before the appointment for the follow-up happens.
So more and more people in Sweden are also being covered by private health insurance. And unlike other forms of insurance here, these don’t include economic compensation, they provide faster care at a specialist clinic without having to wait.
Around one person in ten here between the ages of 16 and 64 is now covered by a private policy.
According to industry figures, most of those are paid for by employers, but some trade unions are also offering their members private insurance that provides quicker care. One of those is the Swedish Teachers’ Union, Lärarförbundet, where Sören Holm is the office manager. How does he respond to the criticism that by providing a fast lane, such insurance increases inequality in society?
“For us,” he says, “because we can offer better conditions, through a collective solution, we actually reduce inequality. The differences were greater before when it was almost exclusively high income earners who could afford such insurance.”
With the insurance a patient can often get a specialist appointment within a week, and often it doesn’t take more than two weeks to schedule an operation. The plans also include rehab, preventative care, and physical therapy.
But does the need for such insurance mean that the publically funded healthcare system is inadequate?
“The quality of the public system varies widely from place to place,” Sören Holm says. “But that isn’t the main issue. What is most important is that we give our members a choice. As a union we naturally think that the healthcare system ought to be so accessible that no one would need insurance like this. But that isn’t the case, and we have to see to the best way to support our members.”