Originally published by the New York Times
BY CRAIG R. WHITNEY
SPECIAL TO THE NEW YORK TIMES
APRIL 8, 1976
GENTHIN, East Germany —Helga Milner, a conductor on the state railway, came back to the day‐care center the other evening and found that her young son, Nico, had come down with influenza in an. epidemic that is sweeping East Germany.
She took a day off and brought the baby to the Genthin Polyclinic, where Dr. Gerhard Wojna examined Nico and prescribed medicine: He also gave Mrs. Milner a written excuse from work for five days.
“After that, if the baby is still sick, I'll go to the day‐care center to treat him,” Dr. Wojna said.
Mrs. Kanner will not have to pay for prescriptions, medicine, or treatment, and her five days off do not count against vacation time. “We just take it for granted,” she said.
The East German health system is widely regarded as the most advanced in the Communist world. It is also considered a model by the West Germans, whose less comprehensive program is threatening to become impossibly expensive.
“Our health system is financially healthy,” said Dr. Gunter Kuntze, the labor union official and Communist Party member who heads the social security system for the district of Magdeburg, the Government administrative center for Genthin, “It covers everybody, it covers everything, and every patient is given the best possible treatment, no matter what it costs.”
Beneath the surface, though, it is not so simple.
East German workers pay 10 percent of their monthly salaries for social security, which includes the health insurance, pension contributions, and the like, up to a maximum of $24 a month. If they want, they can increase their pensions by paying up to $48 a month. Their factories make a matching contribUtion.._For most people, the system is administered by the Communist trade union organization.
But mandatory contributions are not enough to finance the system. The East German Government will have to pump more than $3 — billion’ into it this year to make ‘pp ‘the deficit, Dr. Kuntze said, and over the next five years it will have to make up $16.2 billion in deficits.
And there are relics of the past. The clinic in Genthin, for instance, has no hospital beds. It sends non-ambulatory patients across the street to hospital that is run by a charity of the Evangelical Church of Germany, the largest German Protestant denomination.
“We just‐ send patients over and the social security system pays the church hospitals just the same as the state‐run ones,” said the clinic's chief physician, Dr. Heinrich Groning. “There's no problem about that.”
Of the 584 hospitals in East Germany, 52 are run by the Evangelical Church and 37 by the Roman Catholic Church. And churchmen say there are indeed “problems.” One said: “They get payments from ,the state, on a patient‐per‐day basis, but it's not enough to ,invest in new equipment or to pay’ the staff decently.”
Nuns working in a Catholic hospital near Leipzig, for example, get a state, salary of only $120 a month. “We depend on financial support from West Germany to keep these hospitals going,” a church official said.
An East Berliner who has been in and out of hospitals in recent years asked, “If it's a classless system, then why do they have a special “Government hospital’ on Scharnhorststrasse?” An extensive hospital for high officials and party functionaries is being built in the Buch suburb of East Berlin, the Berliner said. “The best hospital,” he went on,...“is for the police and the secret service people. If. I could, I'd go there for treatment.” The hospital is near the border with West Berlin.
“But still,” this critic concluded, “the system here is better than what you have in the United States.”
Since they do not cost patients anything, long hospital stays here are common. According to Dr. Groning, nearly all childbirths in East Germany now take place in hospitals and the average stay for a new mother is 8 to 10 days.
“Every patient can choose; his own doctor,” he said, “and; money ‘is no consideration.”
Of the 14 doctors in the clinic here, more than half are women — Dr. Sabine Wajna, Gerhard's wife, is one of them. Doctor's salaries, fixed by he state, range from $90 to $150 a week, Dr. Gröning said.
These low pay scales have two major consequences. One is that physicians are often found among those who try to escape to the West. Another, though, is that the East German system is in better financial.’ condition than West Germany's, which is heading toward such a huge deficit that services may have to be cut next year, or rates will have to be raised to unacceptably high levels