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Planet Health Care

As debate rages in Washington, the answers are out there. You just need to know where to look.

3) Need an appendectomy in China? That'll be $34, please.

Sound like a bargain? Not so fast.

In an attempt to guarantee health care access to all citizens, 20 years ago China's government set maximum hospital rates. It hasn’t allowed prices to be raised since, despite the country's dramatic economic growth, higher personal income and rising inflation.

So that $34 doesn’t cover much. Instead, costs are made up in other ways, such as rampant over-prescribing of often unneeded medication — causing problems in personal and public health — as well as unnecessary testing and other treatments where doctors and hospitals can charge more.

4) Taiwan, meanwhile, has one of the best health care systems in the world.

But it wasn't always that way.

In 1995, 40 percent of Taiwanese had no health insurance. Today, nearly every one of the country's 23 million residents is covered. Taiwan spends 6.5 percent of its gross domestic product on health care (versus almost 16 percent in the U.S.), and more than 80 percent of the population is happy with the system.

In this comprehensive special report, Taipei correspondent Jonathan Adams examines why Taiwan's system is so effective, and how its unique political situation allowed reform to happen.

He also discovered an interesting link with Confucianism. 

"Throughout Chinese history, Confucianism says the government has to take care of the people, no matter what," said Michael Chen, of Taiwan's Bureau of National Health Insurance. "So we are obligated to make sure 100 percent of the population is covered."

5) Australia offers coverage for all citizens. But 40 percent still opt to buy private insurance.

According to Sydney correspondent Alan Mascarenhas, the great strength of Australia's system is affordability and access. It offers cradle-to-grave health care for everyone and covers most or all of the costs for physician consultations, as well as specialists’ fees and X-rays and pathology tests. Treatment in public hospitals is free.

Though as Mascarenhas points out, it's far from perfect. About 40 percent of Australians choose to purchase private insurance, making them eligible for treatment in more exclusive, privately-run hospitals.

6) Slumdog doctors in India? Hardly.

With the health care debate raging in the U.S., many Americans aren't waiting to see how it ends: they're flying to India to get treatment.

As correspondent Saritha Rai reports, the number of Americans seeking cardiac bypass surgeries, organ transplants, complex spinal surgeries and other medical procedures is surging. A top hospital in Bangalore says it's treated almost 600 so far this year, triple last year's figure. Another says its volume of U.S. patients has doubled.

India appeals to many Americans thanks to the prevalence of English, while its high-tech hospitals, well-trained doctors and sophisticated treatments are an easy sell.

7) South Africa is making a big health care push, too.

South Africa's health care record isn't so great — child mortality rates are rising, while incompetence and denial on the part of former president Thabo Mbeki's administration allowed the AIDS epidemic to reach gigantic proportions.

The two factors are connected: South Africa has the highest number of HIV-positive women in the world, making transmission of the disease to children a serious problem.

But as correspondent Nicolas Brulliard reports, the new government is acknowledging South Africa’s health challenges and, more importantly, beginning to tackle them.

8) Germany's  system is rarely cited as a model for the U.S. Maybe it should be.

That's the conclusion of correspondent Paul Hockenos in Berlin, who writes about his own experiences with Germany's mix of public and private plans. Here's how Paul puts it: "As an American living in Germany and working as a freelance writer, I have health insurance through a multi-payer, non-profit insurance company. I can walk into any doctor's office in all of Germany, show my provider's plastic card, and receive treatment without ever seeing a bill. I can go to another doctor the next day and do the same — and the day after that. I pay a $15 cash fee on the first visit of every quarter, and a modest percentage of the cost of most prescriptions."

9) The U.N. says France has the world's best health care. The U.S. is 37th (just above Cuba).

The French also live two years longer than Americans, with half the infant mortality rate. According to correspondent Mort Rosemblum (who's had an EKG in Beijing and fought off a Balkans pneumonia in a Paris hospital), health care in most of the world isn't a market. It's a basic human right.

10) The British love their National Health Service (and they've got the Twitter feed to prove it).

When Britain's NHS briefly became a punching bag in the U.S. reform debate, we asked London correspondent Michael Goldfarb to find out what the locals really thought of their system. It turns out they like it. A lot. Even Conservative Party leader David Cameron is a fan, while the Twitter feed of the "We love the NHS" campaign crashed last month due to heavy traffic.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/commerce/091008/planet-health-care