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Stockholm, Sweden

Introduction to the Swedish Health Care System

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Sweden provides universal care to all of her citizens, funded primarily by taxes levied at both the national and local levels of government. Sweden's health care delivery system is divided into three parts: national, regional (organized through county councils), and local care. The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, an organization under the national government, is the primary organizer of Sweden's health care system. The Ministry drafts legislation at the national level and supervises the financing and delivery of medical services at the local level.

Even with the introduction of privatized medicine in the early 1990s, the vast majority of health care providers are employed by the government. The Health and Medical Services Act of 1982 only broadly defines the organization of health care system, which grants each local government the freedom to determine how best organize the delivery and organization of its health services in order to provide their residents with the best possible quality of care.

Quality care, however, as a result of universal coverage, is restricted. Because Sweden's health care system is funded through a single payer system the main concern county governments focus on is cost containment. The primary way the health care industry controls costs is through rationing, with the most problematic result being long waiting lists. In attempts to address this issue, Sweden adopted a new system of health care (known as the Stockholm Model) which allowed for the privatization of health care, giving doctors and hospitals more control on medical decisions, and giving patients a choice to choose their providers. Through free market competition, Sweden hoped to diminish waiting lists, yet maintain costs. Initial results were positive as waiting periods decreased and spending held, however, the free market in the long run did not operate efficiently. Waiting lists, along with costs, began to rise, reducing the quality of care patients could receive. Problems with waiting lists remain to this day, but costs have been maintained (currently representing 9.1% of the GDP . However, the aging population poses a major threat to the stability of cost containment in the health care sector, which along with problems of quality care and rationing leave Sweden, despite a long history of reform, with the necessity of reorganizing and changing the system.
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With Sweden's population growing at such a slow rate in comparison to the United States, we see how the number of Swedish citizens over the age of 60 is greater than the number of citizens over the age of 60 in the United States. This disproportionate population distribution allows the Swedish government to focus on the older population without taking away from the much smaller percentage of those under 15 years old--17% of the population. For the remaining 59% of the population in Sweden, government funded preventative measures allow those young to middle age adults to live a longer, healthier life. Ultimately, Sweden's small population is conducive to a government run health care program. The Swedish health care system, if implemented in the United States, would not yield the same positive results as in Sweden.
Source: World Health Organization