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Sociol Health Illn. 2010 Sep;32(6):930-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2010.01262.x. Epub 2010 Jul 23.

Agents of their health? How the Swedish welfare state introduces expectations of individual responsibility.

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1
Academy for Health and Working Life, University of Gävle, Sweden.

Abstract

In recent years, the notion of individual responsibility for one's health has been introduced into Swedish medico-political debate. Formerly expressed as a recommendation, it has now taken on the form of expectations. In a Swedish context, this shift from collective to individual responsibility is novel because it implies a break with well-established welfare state practice of comprehensive care for their citizens. Using a systems-theoretical approach, we interpret this shift of expectations as a political solution to the problem of legitimate allocation of scarce resources. A more inclusive medical conception of illness has facilitated the introduction of many new diagnoses that, in turn, have lead to a strong increase in claims for medical treatment and for compensation. This semantic change in medicine aggravates the budgetary situation of the welfare state. The political solution lies in a reorientation of the expectations the medical system can have on citizens as well as a shift of the expectations regarding the rights and obligations citizens can have on the medical system. Individuals are increasingly expected to live healthy lifestyles and to avoid hazardous habits. If they do not live up to these expectations, they have to face low prioritisation or denial of treatment.

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