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J Health Serv Res Policy. 2006 Jul;11(3):167-71.

Choices in health care: the European experience.

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London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.


This paper examines some policies to increase or restrict consumer choice in western European health systems as regards four decisions: choice between public and private insurance; choice of public insurance fund; choice of first contact care provider and choice of hospital. Choice between public and private insurance is limited and arose for historical reasons in Germany. Owing to significant constraints, few people choose the private option. Choice of public insurance fund tends to be exercised by younger and healthier people, the decision to change fund is mainly associated with price and, despite complex risk adjustment mechanisms, it has led to risk selection by funds. Choice of first contact care provider is widespread in Europe. In countries where choice has traditionally been restricted, reforms aim to make services more accessible and convenient to patients. Reforms to restrict direct access to specialists aim to reduce unnecessary and inappropriate care but have been unpopular with the public and professionals. Patients' take up of choice of hospital has been surprisingly low, given their stated willingness to travel. Only where choice is actively supported in the context of long waiting times is take up higher. The objectives, implementation and impact of policies about choice have varied across western Europe. Culture and embedded norms may be significant in determining the extent to which patients exercise choice.

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