Although choice may be seen as an end in itself, the papers included in this special issue of Health Economics, Policy and Law, examine choice policies in European systems of health care, which aim to be effective instruments for ameliorating the systemic pressures from the iron triangle of equity, efficiency, and cost. Three papers consider the nature of differences between and within countries following the Beveridge and Bismarck models of financing and organising the delivery of care, and how choices are changing within different systems. Within countries following the Beveridge model, current policies in England, Denmark and Sweden emphasise increasing patient choice of provider. Within countries following the Bismarck model, current policies in France and Germany seek to restrict choice of specialists by introducing ‘soft’ gatekeeping; and in the Netherlands there is a system of managed competition with choice of insurer that, in principle, allows insurers to contract selectively with providers. A fourth paper considers how government policies that seek to restrict choice within systems of universal coverage have been subject to challenges in the courts. A commentary explores the implications of the fraught and complex nature of choices between insurers and providers of health care for designing effective choice policies.