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Is Finnish Health Care Value for Money?

Is Finnish Health Care Value for Money?


Picture: Alex Proimos

Seeing a doctor in the Finnish national healthcare system can sometimes prove difficult.  It is not just me, friends also encounter the difficulty of seeing a doctor when using the public system. Whether with an appointment or waiting in the local health center to hopefully see a doctor, the first person encountered will normally be a nurse. Maybe this is efficient use of resources so that only those with bigger issues than the nurse can sort out get to see the doctor.  

However, in the larger health center, the system makes it almost impossible to see the same doctor every time and causes a lack of continuity for ongoing long-term health problems.  It should not be due to a shortage of doctors because Eurostat figures for 2014 suggest that the capital region has 440 doctors per 100,000 inhabitants compared to the EU average of around 356 doctors per 100,000 inhabitants. 

The more rural regions are slightly worse off for doctor coverage where the numbers drop to 336 per 100,000 inhabitants for western Finland but that is still better than many regions of France and the UK. My wife has a job that provides the private on-demand healthcare where seeing a doctor is easy, but at a price.  Although people that use these services are taking the pressure off the public system. 

The important thing is that the Finnish healthcare system works and you can get to see a doctor or appropriate specialist when the need arises. Most medical staff I have encountered speak English, which helps when my basic Finnish falls short.  After the appointment the charge will arrive in the post and cost €16.40 which compares favorably to a private doctor’s consultation at €55 to €70.

The important thing is that the Finnish healthcare system works and you can get to see a doctor or appropriate specialist when the need arises.

If the patient fails to turn up for the appointment then the charge is still made, which encourages people to arrive and not waste the doctor’s time.  Thus, having the right to claim residency in Finland and the ability to register for public social services and healthcare is an obvious advantage if your employer does not provide private medical cover.

Recently I was referred onwards to a hospital surgeon for a possible small operation. The appointment came within a month of first going to the doctor.

That specialist hospital appointment cost €37.20, still cheaper than going private.  A month later I was whisked efficiently through the day surgery system.  Admitted at 8:00 in the morning and picked up by my wife at 14:00. Although I only had local anesthetic, the sedative made the memory slightly blurry, but I do remember seeing plenty of caring nurses and peeping at the surgeon repairing my own muscles.

No overnight stay required so I avoided the €48.90 per night charge. Two weeks of sick leave has flown by, which is a sign that I have been quite happy to rest and allow the healing to happen. I have no complaints about the service and am expecting a fee of €107.30.  What a bargain compared to going private or paying for medical insurance! Looking at recent reports from the USA and the UK, a similar operation would have cost thousands.

Finland’s healthcare system also expects the patient to contribute to the cost of medicines. For 2018, the first €50 of any drugs prescribed has to be paid by the patient, after that most patients qualify for the 40 percent reimbursement rate and pay 60 percent of the real medicine cost. My regular medication would cost me about €61 for the year in Finland, which compares favorably with other world public healthcare systems. 

For example, the British National Health Service charges £8.60 per prescribed item and if the pharmacist sells packs only for a month at a time the annual cost would be around £103 or 115 euros. If you are lucky, the doctor may prescribe for three months and so the annual cost would be £34 or 38 euros.

I have my frustrations with Finnish state control of pharmacists and medicines because in the UK non-prescription drugs can be sold at shops and not only in the chemists. For example; 500 Mg Paracetamol from a UK supermarket costs as little as 30 pence for 16 pills.  On the other hand, the resulting protected profession means that Finland has a higher than the average number of pharmacists when compared to other EU countries.

European Union statistics for 2015 suggested that Finland spent 19.8 billion Euros on healthcare that year, which averages out at €3,612 per citizen.  Luxembourg, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Austria and Sweden all spent over €4,000 per inhabitant on healthcare and France had similar expenditure to Finland with the UK and Belgium spending slightly more.

It is very difficult to deduce if Finnish healthcare is more cost-effective than other countries because it is questionable whether increased spending results in healthier people.

In 2015, Sweden spent 14.11 euros more per inhabitant than Finland but are the neighbors any healthier? Other factors such as eating, drinking, exercise and mental health also affect the fitness of a population and throwing money at just healthcare may not generate the desired improvements.

Health services are heavily subsidized by the government and paid for by higher taxation. Many people complain about the amount of tax they pay, however, when you see the quality of the services that are available to all in society, the health care, education, infrastructure etc., then the complaints pale into insignificance.  As a European benefitting from these services it is hard to understand the system in the USA, one of the world’s wealthiest countries, where so many cannot afford basic health care. 

Feeling fortunate to be in Finland!

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About The Author

Richard Bedhall

Farmer, teacher, accountant and salesman. An experienced Brit living in Finland with a family and two dogs.

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