Ireland's health care example


On Monday the New York Times published a column by Paul Krugman that compared Ireland's and America's economic problems. Krugman is an economist and should know better than to omit the role played by the fact Ireland is in a monetary union with countries whose economies are not really in synch with our own. He should also know that comparing Ireland (GDP around $250bn) and the United States (GDP $14 trillion) is really of little value.

I didn't think much of Krugman's column, but he got me thinking, thinking about health care and if Ireland's experience was of any value to the American debate on the topic.

I haven't been following the ins and outs of America's health care debate. In fact, I don't really understand all that well how the Irish system works, even though I've lived here for nearly 20 years. Having said that, I can offer a couple of observations of the Irish system that may be of some use to you.

First, having the government run your health care system is no panacea. I don't know if we'd be better off with less government involvement, but based on the volume of media coverage of all that's wrong with the Irish health care system, I can't imagine it could be much worse.

For what seems like the 10th time in the last two years a major scandal in one (maybe more) of our hospitals is unfolding. This scandal is totally dominating the news here. {Nobody seems to care much about the Jihad-Jane-Irish-al-Qaeda-cell story that broke on Tuesday.}

All three major broadsheets are full of coverage of this latest fiasco in the health system and are calling on the Minister for Health, Mary Harney {photo}, to resign.

That brings up a related point. Problems in the health care system have the potential to generate such emotion among the population and provide so much fodder for the opposition parties that the normal functioning of the government seems to grind to a halt every time health hits the headlines. Maybe something to bear in mind?

Ireland is a small country and maybe the health care issues here have nothing to do with the fact that the state is so heavily involved in running it. Maybe things will be completely different in whatever form an American state-funded / state-run system takes. Maybe.

Or maybe it will be a bureaucratic, systematic mess like we have here now.

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