Today's Wall Street Journal
(requires subscription) reports that Germany's health system is about to be reworked, if a government plan passes the legislature: "The overall costs of the health system wouldn't be much reduced. Instead, for the first time, patients would be charged small fees for treatments, hospital stays and medicine. Sick pay and certain dental expenses would no longer be covered by the public system. . . . The annual burden on the system would be cut by about €10 billion ($11.3 billion) starting next year and by as much as €23 billion annually by 2007, the government said. Health care payments would fall to 13% as a percentage of gross wages by 2006, from 14.4% today, according to the plan. Health care is the biggest social expenditure after pensions. . . . The measures would also go some way toward opening up the health care industry to private insurers and to more competition. . . . But the package stops short of allowing health insurance providers to choose the hospitals or doctors with which they have contracts. The current system has fixed contracts between hospitals and providers, an arrangement some analysts say stifles competition and hurts quality." Interesting that -- coming from very different starting points -- both the German government and the U.S. House and Senate are looking to privatization and increased competition to meet the soaring demands of ever-more-costly health insurance plans.