The demand for publicly subsidised health care services is insatiable, but the costs can be contained in different ways: formal rules can limit access to and the number of subsidised services, demand and supply can be regulated through the price mechanism, the relevant profession can contain the costs through state-sanctioned self-regulation, and other professions can contain the costs (e.g. through referrals). The use of these cost containment measures varies between countries, depending on demand and supply factors, but the relative professional status of the health professions may help explain why different countries use cost containment measures differently for different services. This article compares cost containment measures in Denmark and Norway because these countries vary with regard to the professional status of the medical profession relative to other health care providers, while other relevant variables are approximately similar. The investigation is based on formal agreements and rules, historical documents, existing analyses and an analysis of 360 newspaper articles. It shows that high relative professional status seems to help professions to avoid user fees, steer clear of regulation from other professions and regulate the services produced by others. This implies that relative professional status should be taken into consideration in analyses of health care cost containment.