This article describes some essential aspects of the Finnish political and governmental system and the evolution of the basic institutional elements of the health care system. We examine the developments that gave rise to a series of health care reforms and reform proposals in the late 1980s and early 1990s and relate them to changes in health care expenditure, structure, and performance. Finally, we discuss the relationship between policy changes,reforms, and health system changes and the strength of neo-institutional theory in explaining both continuity and change. Much of the change in Finnish health care can be explained by institutional path dependency. The tradition of strong but small local authorities and the lack of legitimate democratic regional authorities as well as the coexistence of a dominant Beveridge-style health system with a marginal Bismarckian element explain the specific path of Finnish health care reform. Public responsibility for health care has been decentralized to smaller local authorities (known as municipalities) more than in any other country. Even an exceptionally deep economic recession in the early 1990s did not lead to systems change; rather, the economic imperative was met by the traditional centralized policy pattern. Some of the developments of the 1990s are, however, difficult to explain by institutional theory. Thus, there is a need for testing alternative theories as well.

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