In Switzerland, the finances of hospitals are similar to those of a business. If revenues fall, as they did during the coronavirus pandemic, profits can turn into losses.
During the recent phase of the pandemic, non-urgent operations were postponed to free up hospital capacity to care for serious Covid-19 cases. Postponing these operations has left a large hole in hospital revenue. Fears of infection have kept others away from hospitals, further affecting revenue. In addition, extra costs were incurred buying supplies and hiring extra staff to take care of Covid-19 patients.
The total loss across Switzerland is estimated at between CHF 1.7 and 2.9 billion, according to H+, a Swiss hospital association. 80% of this is related to postponed operations.
Hospitals hope the federal government and health insurers might help to fill the hole. Health insurers have benefited from a fall in claims for non-urgent surgery and have reserves of around CHF 9 billion, according to H+. Because the directives to reconfigure operations during the pandemic came from the federal government, some argue it should therefore help hospitals financially.
However, Alain Berset, a federal councillor, pointed out last week that non-urgent surgery had been postponed rather than cancelled, a comment some have taken as a hint that the federal government can’t be counted on to help out.
Spending on health has declined across the world because of Covid-19. Postponement of non-emergency operations and fears of SARS-CoV-2 infection have kept many away from hospitals.
The Economist Intelligence Unit expects healthcare spending in western Europe to fall by 2.6% in 2020 as a result of Covid-19. However, in 2021, it expects spending across the region to rise by 5.4% to a level above where it was before the pandemic, partly driven by the costs of projected SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.
Perhaps Swiss hospitals will have a bumper year in 2021 that will make up for losses in 2020. But who knows. Beyond the general possibility of a viral pandemic, no one forecast SARS-CoV-2 this time last year.