Why public health services? Experiences from profit-driven health care reforms in Sweden

Int J Health Serv. 2014;44(3):507-24. doi: 10.2190/HS.44.3.e.


Market-oriented health care reforms have been implemented in the tax-financed Swedish health care system from 1990 to 2013. The first phase of these reforms was the introduction of new public management systems, where public health centers and public hospitals were to act as private firms in an internal health care market. A second phase saw an increase of tax-financed private for-profit providers. A third phase can now be envisaged with increased private financing of essential health services. The main evidence-based effects of these markets and profit-driven reforms can be summarized as follows: efficiency is typically reduced but rarely increased; profit and tax evasion are a drain on resources for health care; geographical and social inequities are widened while the number of tax-financed providers increases; patients with major multi-health problems are often given lower priority than patients with minor health problems; opportunities to control the quality of care are reduced; tax-financed private for-profit providers facilitate increased private financing; and market forces and commercial interests undermine the power of democratic institutions. Policy options to promote further development of a nonprofit health care system are highlighted.

MeSH terms

  • Efficiency, Organizational
  • Health Care Reform / organization & administration*
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration
  • Hospitals, Public / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Privatization / organization & administration*
  • Quality of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Social Justice
  • State Medicine / organization & administration*
  • Sweden