The Sickness Insurance Act of 1963 introduced health insurance to Finland in two stages. First, beginning in 1964 it provided payments when wages were lost because of illness or maternity leave and payments for the cost of treatment and medicine. Three years later, it began paying doctors' bills as well. Until the act went into effect, only a small minority of the population, generally those employed by large firms, had medical insurance.
All persons resident in Finland for more than a short time were eligible for benefits. Foreigners had to register with the local health authorities to receive payments. In the 1980s, the daily payment made to make up for losses of income due to illness averaged about 80 percent of a typical wage and could last for as many as 300 workdays. Highly paid individuals received less. Hospital care in public hospitals was generally free, and other compensation amounted to 60 percent of doctors' fees, 75 percent of laboratory expenses, and 50 percent of medicine costs. In the mid-1980s, dental care was free for anyone born after 1961, but for others it was paid only if dental problems had to be treated to cure a disease. Maternity leave payments amounted to about 80 percent of income for about one year, and could begin five weeks before the estimated date of the birth. Fathers could take some of this time, with a corresponding cut in the days allowed to the mother. Sickness insurance was funded by the recipients themselves through their payment of about 2 percent of their locally taxable income, by employers who paid a contribution of about 1 percent of the employee's wages, and by the state.
However generous these benefits appeared in an international context, medical fees had increased in the 1970s and the 1980s, and government compensation rates had not kept pace. Rates increased by 25 percent in 1986, but not enough according to some critics. Those who pressed for government relief believed it necessary even though public medical care, which constituted the bulk of medical care in Finland, was already highly subsidized and hence rather cheap compared with many other countries.
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