Prices and transparency
December 2, 2011 in Member Stories
Steven Messina brings up an interesting point about health care in Germany. When I read it, I called my colleague, NPR health correspondent Richard Knox, who reported about this very topic a few years ago.
“In Germany, everybody understands what they get,” Knox tells me. As Steven points out, in Germany the system is complicated, but very transparent. “The government in Germany requires that everybody in the system get the same benefits, and it’s uniform across the whole country,” Knox says. Prices may vary a little from region to region based on cost of living, but there’s a fee schedule that everybody can look at to see how much doctors and dentists are paid for each service. Co-pays are kept low to encourage people to see a doctor if they need to.
In the United States, prices for different services are all over the map – within the same city, the same insurance plan, even the same hospital. It can be hard to find out how much things are going to cost, often until it’s too late, when you find out something isn’t covered or it cost a lot more than you bargained for. Knox tells me he recently called his primary care doctor to find out how much a regular check-up would cost, and the doctor’s office couldn’t even tell him.
Knox wrote a 1993 book on the German health care system, and reported from Germany as part of a 2008 series NPR called, “Health Care for All.” Our reporters took at look at Western European systems, which spend less on health care than the United States, but the numbers indicate that Europeans are just as healthy as Americans, if not more so. We also posted interactive charts so you can compare countries’ populations, life expectancies, and health care spending. As Knox says, “They’re not us and we’re not them” – so looking to copy another system will probably never work. But we have a lot to learn about how other countries can have very different systems with very good outcomes. They show what’s possible.