The Plank

Want Good Health Care? Try Taiwan.

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Over on the main page, I review a new "Frontline" special about health care systems abroad called "Sick Around the World." It's good! And if you don't catch it tonight on PBS, I recently learned, it should be available on the Frontline website. I also learned that National Public Radio is airing a companion series of segments on its shows this week. You can listen to the first one, which explains some of the finer points of the Japanese system, here.

As it happens, I was just at a special screening of the film. In attendance were Washington Post correspondent T.R. Reid, the show's narrator, and Princeton's May Tsung-Mei Cheng, who consulted with Taiwan on the design of its program. Among her more interesting revelations: Once Taiwan implemented its single-payer system, it drastically reduced health care inflation even as it was expanding coverage to the entire population.

Like I said in my piece, Taiwan doesn't get nearly the attention it should, notwithstanding Paul Krugman's valiant efforts. Here is a country that, when given a chance to pick and choose from the world's best performing health care systems, decided the most sensible reform was to have the government insure everybody directly, like Medicare does for the elderly.

Maybe such a proposal is unviable here, politically if not practically. (The practical issue is whether--and how fast--you could superimpose such a system over existing health insurance arrangements.) But this is yet one more reminder that health insurance is one of those functions that government really can do well, at least in the right environment.

--Jonathan Cohn

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