New York Times
October 18, 2006
A Lesson From Europe on Health Care
By DAVID LEONHARDT
Shortly before he moved to Greece last year, an American named John Econopouly
received the unpleasant news that he needed a hernia operation. He had the surgery done
in Northern California, and it didn’t go so well.
After spending less than a day in the hospital as an outpatient, Mr. Econopouly went to a
friend’s house to sleep off the surgery and found that his wound had reopened. “I woke
up in a pool of blood and didn’t know what to do,” he remembered. “Basically, I didn’t
feel cared for.”
For this, he paid more than $2,000 over and above the thousands of dollars that his
insurance policy paid.
A few months later, once he had moved to Greece, he found out that he needed a separate
operation for another hernia, giving him a chance, unwanted as it may have been, to do
his own little comparative study of American and European medicine.
The Greek hospital was much dirtier than the one in California, he said, and he was put in
a room with a handful of other patients. The stench was brutal. When Mr. Econopouly, a
41-year-old computer programmer for Wall Street, asked for more privacy and said he
would be happy to pay extra, the staff laughed at him.
But the care itself was another story. It seemed much more thorough than it had been in
the United States. He spent the day before the operation undergoing tests, including one
that discovered a heart murmur, and the day after the operation in the hospital being
observed. Although he didn’t have Greek health insurance, his final bill was only $700.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column arguing that this country’s increased medical
spending over the last half-century has, on the whole, been overwhelmingly worth it.
Thanks to new treatments for everything from premature births to heart attacks, human