Radikale ignite debate over charging for healthcare

Centrist party says government should consider adding fees for some services and making the wealthy pay more

The government should take a look at changing the fee structure for some services offered by the national health service, according to some members of the centrist government party Radikale.

The majority of services offered by the Danish health care service, from hospital visits to expert consultations, are free. But over the years a number of charges have been introduced for some services including adult dentistry and prescriptions.

Members of Radikale have suggested forming a committee of experts who will examine the consequences and benefits of changing both which services citizens should pay for, and how high the fees should be.

“While we say there is free and equal access to health services, we in fact pay over 20 billion kroner a year in dental treatment and prescriptions,” party spokesperson Charlotte Fischer told Berlingske newspaper.

Fischer argues that charges should be introduced for some services that are currently free, while wealthier Danes should be expected to pay more for services than those with lesser financial means.

“It’s reasonable to demand that a managing director pay a bit more for their ambulance transport than someone with a lower income,” Fischer said.

Kristian Grønbæk Andersen, a member of Radikale’s regional council in Region Syddanmark, said he supported Fischer’s proposal and argued that the distribution of fees needed to be re-examined.

“Lower-paid Danes have to pay 5,000 kroner for a root canal and 7,000 kroner for a pair of special glasses just like everyone else, but yet a hearing aid is free,” Andersen told Berlingske. “There is no logic to it and it’s just a historic coincidence that the costs ended up this way. We need to change things so that health services that are expensive today become less expensive through a public subsidy.”

While Andersen added that he didn’t think it was necessary to introduce fees for more public health services, he thought it was necessary to make wealthy Danes pay more.

“It’s about spreading the costs so it’s not the people who need glasses, have trouble with their teeth or have chronic illness who end up the worst hit,” Andersen said.

Radikale’s views have caused some debate, especially given that their coalition partners, Socialistisk Folkeparti and Socialdemokraterne, ran a joint election campaign in which they ruled out introducing any new charges for the health service.

MP Stine Brix (Enhedslisten) shares the views of those two parties and in an editorial for Politiken newspaper wrote that she was concerned that the quality of health care would drop if wealthy Danes were made to pay more for services.

“Targeting welfare at poor Danes can quickly become an expensive and ineffective method of redistribution,” Brix wrote. “We have experience that welfare for the poor becomes poor welfare. When welfare programmes are targeted at the poorest, there is no longer the political pressure to maintain the quality of service.”

Brix also argued that a progressive pricing structure for health care would require a new bureaucracy to be established that will judge to what extent people are entitled to services.

“Universal healthcare promotes a sense of community and prevents us from developing into a society in which people who are the victims of accidents have to stand in front of a panel of judges that at a comfortable distance divide people into groups of the weak and the strong, good citizens and bad, before being offered help.”

Not everyone agrees that charging for services in the health service would have such a detrimental effect on society. According to the liberal think-tank Cepos, the quality of some services may improve if Danes were made to pay for them.

“Charging for the emergency doctor is an effective way of ensuring that those who can wait for their normal doctor will wait, and those who need the help can get through,” spokesperson Amalie Holsten told Jyllands-Posten newspaper

She added that Sweden and Norway now charge to call an emergency doctor and it had an impact on the number of calls made. “Sweden and Norway did not experience a social catastrophe after fees were introduced.”