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CBS: 'Rolex' Swiss Health Care System a 'Model for America'

On Saturday's CBS Evening News, anchor Jeff Glor teased an upcoming story on Switzerland's health care system by wondering: "Could Switzerland's health care be a model for America?" He later introduced the segment by claiming that the Swiss system could be "a glimpse of what the U.S. health care system of the future might look like."

Correspondent Richard Roth touted the Swiss "love of capitalism," but then went on to praise their socialized health care system: "The law, finally approved in a 1994 national referendum, guaranteed health care for everyone by requiring everyone to have insurance....They choose their own doctors and their own insurance company, and the whole country is covered....Switzerland devised a health care system that's been praised as efficient and neutral. Basic insurance is the same price for everyone."

Roth did manage to find one flaw: "...it's turned out to be expensive....No one goes broke from getting sick, but health care's cost to the economy here is higher than anywhere except the U.S." However, as he talked to the Swiss director of the Federal Office of Public Health, Thomas Zeltner, Roth described the problem this way: "What you built here was a Rolex, and really, perhaps, you should have made a Timex." Zeltner replied: "It is a Rolex. You're right. It should not just look like a Rolex, but also work like a Rolex." Roth concluded: "It does, and the Swiss love it..."

Roth added: "...except once a year when premium prices go up." He explained the strict government regulation of insurance companies: "Insurance companies, which aren't allowed to make a profit from selling basic coverage and can't limit patient choice, complain their hands are tied." Speaking to a spokesman for a Swiss insurer, Roth hinted at rationing to control costs: "Do you think that patients have too much choice now?"

Ultimately, Roth brushed aside the cost concerns: "Health care reform here has been more expensive than reformers predicted, but the Swiss say they didn't expect a perfect system overnight....To keep things running smoothly, it's accepted here that's part of the process."

Here is a full transcript of the segment:

6:40PM TEASE:

JEFF GLOR: Still ahead on tonight's CBS Evening News, could Switzerland's health care be a model for America?

6:43PM SEGMENT:

JEFF GLOR: Later this month, Congress will begin negotiations to merge the House and Senate versions of health care reform into one bill. A glimpse of what the U.S. health care system of the future might look like can be seen right now in Switzerland. Richard Roth has more.

RICHARD ROTH: Picturesque and prosperous, this alpine country in the heart of Europe has almost 8 million people known for their love of chocolate almost as much as their love of capitalism. Peaceful Switzerland hasn't fought a war in almost two centuries, but it was a real battle here reforming health care.

RUTH DREIFUSS [FORMER SWISS PRESIDENT]: It was controversial. It is still controversial.

ROTH: The law, finally approved in a 1994 national referendum, guaranteed health care for everyone by requiring everyone to have insurance. It amounted to a law recognizing health care as a human right, says former Swiss President Ruth Dreyfus.

DREIFUSS: Everybody has really the right to receive the medical care they need from birth to the death.

ROTH: They choose their own doctors and their own insurance company, and the whole country is covered. True to its national reputation, Switzerland devised a health care system that's been praised as efficient and neutral. Basic insurance is the same price for everyone.

Also true to the Swiss reputation, it's turned out to be expensive. Mandatory insurance for an adult costs almost $4,000 a year, deductibles and co-payments can add another $1,000 to that. There's no Medicare or Medicaid. The government pays a cash subsidy to anyone who can't afford the basic policy. No one goes broke from getting sick, but health care's cost to the economy here is higher than anywhere except the U.S.

What you built here was a Rolex, and really, perhaps, you should have made a Timex.

THOMAS ZELTNER [DIRECTOR, FEDERAL OFFICE OF PUBLIC HEALTH]: It is a Rolex. You're right. It should not just look like a Rolex, but also work like a Rolex.

ROTH: It does, and the Swiss love it, except once a year when premium prices go up. Insurance companies, which aren't allowed to make a profit from selling basic coverage and can't limit patient choice, complain their hands are tied.

Do you think that patients have too much choice now?

YVES SEYDOUX [SPOKESMAN, GROUPE MUTUEL]: They have a lot of choice.

ROTH: Too much?

SEYDOUX: I think perhaps yes.

ROTH: Given an aging population and high-tech medicine, some say costs are bound to rise three percent or four percent a year. Health care reform here has been more expensive than reformers predicted, but the Swiss say they didn't expect a perfect system overnight.

DREIFUSS: Such a system needs, I would say, forever fine tuning.

ROTH: To keep things running smoothly, it's accepted here that's part of the process. Richard Roth, CBS News, Switzerland.

-Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.