Portrait of Georgos Pallas
echo interview, May 2022

The younger generation needs a bigger political say


echo interview with Georgos Pallas

echo interview with Georgos Pallas, owner and managing director of Pallas Clinics

elipsLife echo: Mr Pallas, the cost question is a major factor in health policy. Although public hospitals are continually tightening their belts, they’re always plagued by deficits. How do you manage to run a private hospital profitably in this environment?
Georgos Pallas: The constantly shrinking tariffs mean that hospitals are deriving less and less income for the same services. And costs are rising at the same time. As a clinic, the only course of action is to improve process efficiency. Hospitals that can bundle many similar treatments have both a cost and clear quality advantage. So, Pallas Clinics, as the largest eye clinic in Switzerland, has a market advantage that helps us in many ways: We attract better specialists, we have tried and tested processes and we can invest more in technology. Taken together, these factors have proved to be crucial for our success. 

Has Covid exacerbated the cost explosion in the healthcare sector?
Whether the pandemic has made the cost explosion worse is taking too short a view, I think. Covid has highlighted how ongoing austerity measures can trigger problems for the system. We had too few beds and almost had to shut down the entire economy to protect the sector as a whole. That cost a lot of money. Wouldn't it have been wiser to invest more in the provision of services? We would do well to learn the right lessons from the pandemic. The healthcare system is not only about providing care for the population. But just like in a military context, it’s also about being prepared for possible difficult times ahead. 

Doctors' tariffs in ophthalmology have been the subject for discussion for a few years now. The so-called Tarmed tariffs were adjusted as a result. How have these new tariffs influenced the work of the Pallas Clinics?
You’re referring to the situation in 2018. Back then, the tariffs for some treatments were reduced by up to two-thirds. The financial impact this had on our activities was considerable. But apart from that, it was above all the end of an era. Up until that point, there had been a functioning tariff partnership between hospitals, doctors and insurance companies. They set the tariffs together. That came to an end in 2018. It was the first time that the Federal Council – very surprisingly for all market participants – simply decided something by decree so-to-speak. 

Portrait of Georgos Pallas

Physicians from Switzerland are among the leading players in ophthalmology worldwide. What makes this branch of medicine so innovative in this country? 
There are several reasons. First of all, Switzerland is a very attractive country with high wages, a high standard of living and great security. That's why we manage to attract top experts from abroad to Switzerland's universities and private clinics. Secondly, in terms of time and budgets the local environment still allows us to be active in research. Thirdly, the workplaces are attractive and equipped with the best technology. And lastly, there’s the high-quality training our specialists get in Switzerland. 

How many clinics does Pallas AG operate and how many employees do you have?
We’re currently active in 18 locations throughout German-speaking Switzerland. The Pallas clinics employ around 350 people. 

Is retirement provision an issue for new hires?
Pension provision is certainly not a focus in our recruitment interviews. Particularly for younger people, this topic is still too far off. Besides, our pension scheme is complex. So, it’s a real challenge to point out the advantages of attractive pension arrangements. 

Many companies espouse the cause of occupational healthcare management. How important is this topic at Pallas Clinics?
Very - we’re a people-oriented business and so take care of our people’s health. We train our managers accordingly. 

How do you rate elipsLife's healthcare management?  
Our experience has been positive. We’ve carried out many joint projects so far. Cases in point are the introduction of sheltered workplaces, the standardisation of return-to-work interviews after absences, the launch of a series of health promotion campaigns and training sessions for managers. 

Portrait of  Georgos Pallas

As part of the latest AHV reform, parliament has decided to raise the retirement age for women to 65. What are your views on this?
This step is absolutely right. Women tend to live longer than men. And if we talk about equality, there’s no reason not to adjust the pension age for women accordingly. The restructuring of the AHV is an urgent matter. There’s no doubt. Life expectancies are increasing. So, our future working lives will have to be longer too. 

The amount of compensation for women was the sticking point in parliament, but other aspects such as the increase in VAT hardly led to much discussion at all. Will the AHV reform pass at the ballot box?

I don't know. But for me it’s clear we have to find a fundamental solution to this issue simply because we’re all living longer, a fact that’s also relevant for the federal insurance system. We need new ideas. Because we can’t just finance the AHV through raising taxes. As a society, we rather need to think about how we’re going to solve the ever-growing inequality between young and old. How are fewer and fewer young people supposed to finance the pensions of more and more old people? 

You’re referring to the generation conflict?

Yes, the young carry diminishing weight at the ballot box while the "old" are becoming ever stronger in this respect. We need to redress the balance here urgently. We can’t allow hot social issues like this to run aground on ageing. Few pensioners are likely to vote for cuts in their own benefits. And in many other social areas, too, the divide between young and old is becoming more noticeable. In the long term, therefore, solidarity in society is in danger of breaking down – and with it the intergenerational contract on which old-age provisioning is based. In any case, the current "sticking plaster policy" will not solve the real problems of old-age provisioning. Politicians and society as whole need to conduct these discussions together in a spirit of collaboration.

Prtrait of Georgos Pallas

With respect to the restructuring of the 2nd pillar, a general reduction of federal pension payments seems politically out of the question. So, to cushion the reduction of the conversion rate, the National Council has decided on pension supplements. Do you support these redistributions in the context of the 2nd pillar?
No. At best, I get the impression that those affected are just being fobbed off for a while so the basic problem disappears from view for a few more years. 

Should pensioners also participate in the BVG restructuring or are acquired pension rights a no-go area?
From my point of view, this question can no longer be taboo. As I said, it’s unacceptable that fewer and fewer young people have to finance the ever-growing ranks of the older generation. And it’s precisely young families who often lack sufficient financial resources, not our pensioners. I’m a very socially-minded person. That's why – if pension cuts cause hardship cases – I'd be in favour of financial assistance for those affected. This kind of solution would help everyone to make ends meet. "Perverting" the entire system as a solution makes no sense. 

Should the 3rd pillar be promoted more by the state in order to relieve pressure on the 1st and 2nd pillars?
Do we really need three pillars? Couldn't we instead increase the possibilities to pay into the 2nd pillar? It seems to me that the whole system is too complicated. We have to make sure that all working people understand the pension system. That isn’t the case today. A reduction in complexity would therefore go a long way.

Personal Profile
Georgos Pallas
Owner and managing director of Pallas Clinics

Born in 1976, Georgos Pallas grew up in the Olten region. He graduated in economics from the University of St. Gallen in 2001 and also trained as a hospital expert. Pallas was already professionally active during his studies, founding a PC company in 1994, completing internships of several months with various companies and working at Pallas Clinics during his studies. Since 2001, Georgos Pallas has been the owner and managing director of Pallas Clinics, originally founded in 1994. He is married, lives in Starrkirch-Wil near Olten and is the father of five children.

echo interview with Georgos Pallas