AK EUROPA, the Brussels Office of the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour, ÖGB Europabüro and the Brussels Office of the Austrian Trade Union Federation in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Brussels hosted a discussion on the future of social security in Europe. Hereby, the study of the London School of Economics on the Efficiency Review of Austria’s Social Security and Healthcare System by study author Professor Elias Mossialos was presented for the first time in the EU Capital. Afterwards, over 80 participants discussed the future of social security systems in Europa.
In his presentation, Professor Mossialos, London School of Economics, emphasises the many strengths of the Austrian social security system. This is characterised by the high level of satisfaction within the healthcare system and the lowest levels of unmet medical need worldwide. That Austria did not fare that well with regard to the health problems of the insured, was the result of the late introduction of preventive measures (which, however, were well developed in the past years) and the high number of smokers.
Austria's health care expenditure is only slightly above EU average, which, however, is reduced due to East-European countries such as Bulgaria that have a significantly lower Gross Domestic Product. In other western countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands or Switzerland, health care expenditure is in part significantly higher than in Austria. According to the study, at 2.69 % Austria’s administration costs are also relatively low, compared to Great Britain for example, where they amount to ca. 4 %.
Professor Mossialos sees room for improvement with regard to the harmonisation of the benefits provided. In spite of many harmonisations during the past years, there are still differences concerning dental, psychological and physiotherapeutic treatments as well as the waiting times regarding individual social security institutions. The study analyses five different reform options, reaching from merging all social security institutions up to structural adjustments in the existing system. Even if according to Professor Mossialos, the latter was perceived as the least radical model in Austria’s medial discussion; in his estimate it could bring the most extensive improvements in practice. This would be the case if not the number of social security institutions would be changed but their structure: in particular a harmonisation of benefits, a reform of the contract relationships between health insurances and Medical Chamber incl. the tariff system associated with it and further joint coordination.
Bernhard Achitz, General Secretary of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) and since 2006 Deputy Chairman of the Main Association of Austrian Social Security Institutions, welcomed the study. Thanks to the study it would be possible to further improve the well working systems on the basis of scientific findings. Politicians, however, would always point to weaknesses in the systems, thereby creating a wrong impression that just changing the organisation could rectify this. However, the real challenge was to retain and develop the functioning system.
Markus Hofmann, German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), Head of Unit Social Policy, compared the Austrian to the German system. In some areas, many Germany would look with envy to Austria, for example because in Germany the waiting times for non-private patients would be very long for certain procedures and treatments. As a consequence he expects negative effects on the health of these people and for that reason social security is currently the subject in the coming coalition negotiations, keyword “Citizens Insurance”. Hence, he could not understand the current political discussion in Austria as changing organigrams would not bring improvements. The objective of social security systems had to be to make the best medical services available to all people and to further expand their services.