Our Dog Got Better Healthcare

When we lived in Berlin, Germany, our dog enjoyed better health care than millions of Americans.

She had a cancerous growth on her right front leg. We took her to our local vet who gave us the grim word -- Krebs in German -- and suggested we go to the Free University for surgery.

The Free University wasn't free, but the price for all they they did for our dog, Twinkle, an adult Bouvier des Flandres, was astonishing.

The surgeons cut the sarcoma from her lower leg and and later performed an intricate second procedure to allow the skin the better re-group around the wound -- a form of plastic surgery. In all, the dog stayed in the hospital five days.

The bill: less than $500. For that price Americans could fly the dog to Europe, go skiing and still do far better than having the operation done at home.

How can this be? In the states the treatment would be much, much more expensive. Is it because the German government subsidizes health care? Because drugs are far cheaper? Is it because the legal system and malpractice insurance make it far less expensive for doctors there to do business? I can't give you a simple answer, but with the debate over insuring ALL Americans heating up, I thought it was best I start to do my part to throw some light, and so today's metro column is a first salvo.

I sat down with Art Caplan, the Penn bioethicist, and asked him to explain why Congress is putting the brakes on health-care reform, and is unlikely to turn out a bill before August break, the deadline requested by President Obama.

Caplan's a smart guy. Funny, too. The piece has attracted a lot of e-mail and phone messages - split about 50-50. Half appreciate his perspective. Half think he's "talking out of his hat," as one Center City barrister put it. Happy to get the argument going.