MPs back calls for an end to health insurance policy cloning

DutchNews podcast – The Suicidal Kleptocat Edition – Week 36

Dutch MPs want the government to take action to stop health insurance companies offering identical policies for different prices. A motion drawn up by the ruling Christian Democrats and calling for action to reduce the number of cloned policies was backed by a majority of MPs in this week's debate on the health ministry budget. Last month, the Dutch consumers association Consumentenbond said around 1,000 different healthcare policies are currently being offered by 50 different insurance companies and this is creating a policy jungle. ‘All these identical policies with different names make the supply side unnecessarily confusing for consumers,’ said organisation director Bart Combée. ‘Consumers can choose from 57 different basic insurance packages but a third of them can be scrapped because they are identical to others.’ Experts say the policy jungle is one reason just 7% of people switch health insurer during the end-of-year window and this is preventing a true market developing.   The government determines the make-up of the basic policy but health insurance companies are supposed to compete on price and on conditions – such as free choice of healthcare provider.  More >

Being indoors too much is bad for eyesight

DutchNews podcast – The Suicidal Kleptocat Edition – Week 36 Dutch children have an increased risk of becoming short-sighted because they spend more time on computer screens and less time playing outdoors, ophthalmic professor Caroline Klaver says in Wednesday’s NRC. Half of the people in Europe in their 20s wear glasses or have contact lenses, Klaver says. And people who have glasses of -6 or more at a young age have a one in three risk of developing serious sight problems or even going blind, she told the paper. Myopia develops when the eyeball grows too long, relative to the focusing power of the cornea and lens of the eye. Klaver says short-sightedness is the biggest cause of blindness and that spending long times indoors reading or behind a screen increases the risk. ‘We have to ensure that far fewer children develop short-sightedness by making sure they are outside for two hours a day,’ she said. ‘That exposes them to a substance [dopamine] which brakes the growth.’ Schools in particular should ensure children have an hour outdoors. Research by the Erasmus medical centre in Rotterdam shows that 2.4% of six-year-olds are short sighted. They were also more likely to have a shortage of vitamin D, to be overweight and not to play outside.  More >

Abortion clinic waiting lists mount

DutchNews podcast – The Suicidal Kleptocat Edition – Week 36 The bankruptcy of abortion clinic chain Casa means women are having to wait longer and travel longer distances for an abortion, the NRC reported on Friday. The closure of the seven Casa clinics, which carried out half the abortions performed in the Netherlands every year, means Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Maastricht no longer have a specialist unit. Women are now travelling to Roermond, Utrecht and Groningen for the operation as waiting lists double to up to two weeks in places. 'We are doing what we can, but it has to be done safely and there needs to be a bed,' Thea Schipper, director of the clinic in Heemstede told the NRC. 'I have taken on two extra receptionists because the phone does not stop ringing.' Capacity Health minister Bruno Bruins told parliament last week that the remaining seven specialist clinics in the Netherlands would be able to absorb the fall out from the bankruptcy. While in the short term this may be possible, in the long term a clinic which carries out 3,000 abortions a year cannot carry out a further 1,800 on top, Schipper said. Low rate Some 30,800 abortions are carried out in the Netherlands on an annual basis and around12.5% are carried out on women who live abroad where the rules are more restrictive. However, the rate of abortions compared to live pregnancies is still one of the lowest in the world at 8.6 per 1000. Most procedures involved women aged 25 to 30 years old and in around one in 20 terminations, the foetus had been diagnosed with a serious medical condition.  More >

Cancer survival rates rise sharply

DutchNews podcast – The Suicidal Kleptocat Edition – Week 36 Cancer survival rates in the Netherlands have gone up across the board, the Dutch cancer centre IKNL said on Thursday. In the 1960s, 64% of people with cancer died within five years but survival rates have now doubled, the IKNL said. There has also been a sharp rise in 10-year survival rates. The results are based on information in the Dutch cancer register, which records all Dutch diagnoses. For example, the five-year breast cancer survival rate has risen from 56% to 88% while for colon cancer the rate has gone up from 40% to 52%. There has also been progress among forms of cancer which were almost always fatal - the five-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer has risen from 0 to 9%. The research also shows that younger patients have better survival rates than the elderly. This is because they are better able to withstand intensive courses of treatment and are less likely to have complications, such as heart problems or diabetes, the centre said. Early detection is also key to survival rates and the centre is calling for more preventative testing and better treatment in specialist cancer centres.  More >

Top-up health insurance policies 'at risk'

DutchNews podcast – The Suicidal Kleptocat Edition – Week 36 Dutch health insurance companies must continue to modernize their operations and risk management to ensure their long-term solidity, the central bank said on Tuesday. In particular, the future of top-up policies, which cover treatment not included in the government-determined basic policy – is in doubt, the central bank said in a report on the future of the Dutch health insurance market. The top up policies, which cover dental care, more physiotherapy and alternative medicine, are commercial products and insurance companies are free to set their own prices and conditions. When the new health insurance system was introduced in 2006, 93% of policy holders took out additional insurance but that figure has now fallen to 84%. 'We notice a trend that clients are becoming more cautious. In other words, they will only choose a supplemental insurance when they know they will use specific healthcare, such as physiotherapy or dental treatments,' said Koen Kuijper, spokesman for health insurance comparison website 'As a result, supplemental insurances are becoming far less profitable for insurance companies than ever before.' Insurance companies are now keeping the prices artificially low and some are already making a loss on their supplementary policies, the central bank said. Contracts The central bank recommends insurers agree multi-year contracts with providers, do more in terms of prevention and advice, and use data more cleverly. At the same time, the government should make it possible for insurers to offer multiple year policies so that investment in prevention pays off. The bank says that increased solvency requirements, falling income and the use of reserves - €5.5 bn in the past few years - to soften premium hikes have taken their toll on insurers capital surpluses. With healthcare costs set to mount in the coming years, it is increasingly important for insurance companies to ensure their operations are sustainable, the bank says. Have your say about healthcare in the Netherlands - take part in a confidential survey by the non-profit foundation ICAP.  More >