U regent’s trip to Berlin sheds light on German health care system

A 13-member delegation learned what’s working and what needs work in Germany’s universal health care system.

by Taryn Wobbema

In an effort to spur discussion on health care reform across national borders, the University of Minnesota Center for German and European Studies organized a 13-member delegation to visit Berlin last week. Health care policy seems to be an exception to the idea of international collaboration, Sabine Engel, director of the center said. âÄúAll medical progress is based on people from different countries pooling their expertise and challenging each other to come up with the best solutions,âÄù she said. âÄúIn health care policy, we donâÄôt do that.âÄù The delegation âÄî made up of individuals ranging from medical professionals to state lawmakers âÄî left Sept. 22 for a six day seminar focusing on topics like health care policy, insurance, delivery and pharmaceuticals. University Regent Dr. Patricia Simmons, a professor of pediatrics and chair of pediatric and adolescent gynecology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, were among those invited to attend. Attendees were invited because of their involvement in MinnesotaâÄôs health policy decision-making, Engel said. The most obvious difference in health care between Germany and the United States lies in GermanyâÄôs universal system. In Germany, everyone is covered for less cost âÄî and less public tax âÄî than in the United States, Berglin said. When everyone is struggling with cost, it is good to know what is working and what is not, she added. Simmons, said the trip reinforced her personal commitment to support a universal health insurance policy. While universal health care is working in Germany, Simmons noted a lack of integration between ambulatory and hospital delivery services. This is a problem Germany is trying to remedy, she said. Simmons and Berglin both said they were able to understand the U.S. health care system better by examining GermanyâÄôs. Simmons likened it to observing a subject in a laboratory. Both travelers also said they observed many similarities between Germany and the United States, mostly found in common goals. âÄúNobody thinks they have it right,âÄù Simmons said. âÄúWeâÄôre all working toward reform.âÄù This was the first trip organized by the center. Engel said two more are planned for the next two years. The center also organizes a yearly conference in collaboration with the GermanyâÄôs Federal Ministry of Health where âÄústakeholders,âÄù including policymakers and health care providers from Germany and Minnesota, meet to discuss current health care policy and other health care-related issues that transcend individual countriesâÄô borders.