In several European countries, including Norway, polices to increase patient choice of hospital provider have remained high on the political agenda. The main reason behind the interest in hospital choice reforms in Norway has been the belief that increasing choice can remedy the persistent problem of long waiting times for elective hospital care. Prior to the 2013 General Election, the Conservative Party campaigned in favour of a new choice reform: "the treatment choice reform". This article describes the background and process leading up to introduction of the reform in the autumn of 2015. It also provides a description of the content and discusses possible implications of the reform for patients, providers and government bodies. In sum, the reform contains elements of both continuity and change. The main novelty of the reform lies in the increased role of private for-profit healthcare providers.
Norways five million inhabitants are spread over nearly four hundred thousand square kilometres, making it one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe. It has enjoyed several decades of high growth, following the start of oil production in early 1970s, and is now one of the richest countries per head in the world. Overall, Norways population enjoys good health status; life expectancy of 81.53 years is above the EU average of 80.14, and the gap between overall life expectancy and healthy life years is around half the of EU average. The health care system is semi decentralized. The responsibility for specialist care lies with the state (administered by four Regional Health Authorities) and the municipalities are responsible for primary care. Although health care expenditure is only 9.4% of Norways GDP (placing it on the 16th place in the WHO European region), given Norways very high value of GDP per capita, its health expenditure per head is higher than in most countries. Public sources account for over 85% of total health expenditure; the majority of private health financing comes from households out-of-pocket payments.The number of practitioners in most health personnel groups, including physicians and nurses, has been increasing in the last few decades and the number of health care personnel per 100 000 inhabitants is high compared to other EU countries. However, long waiting times for elective care continue to be a problem and are cause of dissatisfaction among the patients. The focus of health care reforms has seen shifts over the past four decades. During the 1970s the focus was on equality and increasing geographical access to health care services; during the 1980s reforms aimed at achieving cost containment and decentralizing health care services; during the 1990s the focus was on efficiency. Since the beginning of the millennium the emphasis has been given to structural changes in the delivery and organization of health care and to policies intended to empower patients and users. The past few years have seen efforts to improve coordination between health care providers, as well as an increased attention towards quality of care and patient safety issues. Overall, comparing mortality rates amenable to medical intervention suggests that Norway is among the better performing European countries. Despite having one of the highest densities of physicians in Europe, though, Norway still struggles to ensure geographical and social equity in access to health care.