Yesterday, the Swiss government announced that diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus (novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2) will be covered by compulsory Swiss health insurance up to a maximum of CHF 280 from 4 March 2020.
Until this announcement it was unclear who would pay for the tests. Now the cost will be borne by health insurance companies and patients.
Switzerland’s system of compulsory health insurance requires patients to contribute 10% of medical costs up to a maximum of CHF 700 per year. In addition, those with deductibles must pay 100% of treatment costs up to the limit of their deductible.
A clear weakness in the government’s recent decision is the financial disincentive it has created to seek testing and treatment. Most will pay 10% of CHF 280 plus 100% of any cost beyond CHF 280. While those with deductibles might have to pay the full cost out of their own pockets.
The newspaper Le Temps reports the test costs between CHF 260 and CHF 1,000. One coronavirus test kit made by Roche costs CHF 280 and another produced by Liferiver is priced at CHF 1,000, according to the newspaper.
Faced with the cost, some coming from risk areas or with mild symptoms might decide to avoid testing and treatment.
One difference between a disease like the novel coronavirus and most illnesses is that a failure to seek tests and treatment poses a risk that extends beyond the individual.
In China, where they appear to have contained the spread of the virus, testing and treatment was free. The state took over the payments for people whose insurance plans didn’t cover them. Finding cases and rapidly isolating them was a key aspect of China’s response to the virus that made it so effective, according to Bruce Aylward, a veteran epidemiologist at the World Health Organisation (WHO), who has been in China and was interviewed by Vox.
In the Chinese province of Guangdong near Hong Kong, the spread of the virus appears to be contained. Part of this success is due to the 320,000 virus tests conducted on those coming to fever clinics. This is 1 test per 350 residents. The number of new cases in Guangdong is now low. By 5 March 2020, the province had 1,351 confirmed cases, 1,181 recoveries, 7 deaths and 163 still suffering from the virus. Guangdong has a population of 113 million, roughly twice the population of Italy (60 million), where there are 3,089 confirmed cases, 276 recoveries, 107 deaths and 2,706 still suffering from the virus – click here for coronavirus data.