Sunday, April 4, 2010

Philipp Rösler

This morning, I came across an article about Germany’s new Minister for Health, the German equivalent of Surgeon General. His name is Philipp Rösler.

Turns out he was adopted from a Vietnamese orphanage when he was nine months old because his father had studied in America and become so horrified at the Vietnam War that he wanted to take some kind of positive action to compensate. Today, Rösler describes himself as “German through and through.”

At age 37 he has an impressive record of accomplishments behind him. In 1992, the same year he graduated from high school in Hannover, he joined the FDP, Germany’s centrist liberal party, the Free Democrats, and became its secretary for the state of Lower Saxony in 2000. Meanwhile, he joined the army and got them to pay for his medical degree while working as a medic. After years of working in politics at the local (Hannover) level, he rose, in July, 2007, to become his party’s main candidate in the Lower Saxony state election. Not long after that, in February 2008, he was appointed Minister for Economy, Labor and Transport as well as Deputy Prime Minister for the State of Lower Saxony. Less than two years later, in October of 2009 he was appointed to his current position as Minister for Health.

His wife is also a doctor, and they have two-year-old twin daughters.

You can reach him at his office at
FDP Landesverband Niedersachsen
Walter-Gieseking-Str. 22
30159 Hannover
Tel. 05 11 / 2 80 71 -0

Or you can just watch him go. He was in the news recently when, barely on the job, he took on the German pharmaceutical industry.

One news video shows him taking up the question of passing a law requiring the industry to negotiate prices for new medications. Also seen is an industry speaker who claims that he’s making a mistake. They keep Germany’s economy strong, she says, and ought not to be messed with.

Much as I’d love to draw parallels with America’s health care situation, and make snarky comments about the pharmaceutical industry, I know too little about the facts to say anything about the wisdom of his choices. I have to limit what I say to comments on outward appearances.

That said, I cannot help but comment on the difference I see between the focus of health care issues in Germany and the United States at this moment. While we’re dealing with having to accept a woefully inadequate Republican health care plan over a universal health care plan universally rejected by Republicans in Congress in order to bring down the government at the cost of improving health care and the economy, here’s Germany appointing a 36-year old man who jokes about living among people who cannot understand why he’s lousy at karate, and about looking in the mirror and wondering who that slant-eyed flat-nosed German is, to oversee the healthcare of 80 million of his fellow citizens. It feels like I’m watching satellite TV coming from two different planets.

Our concerns, when it comes to health care, include whether or not we can pay for it, whether or not we can ever get it to cover every citizen – never mind every resident – and whether we can keep the Republicans from snatching an American child’s right not to be thrown off the health care plan for a “pre-existing condition” back away from him or her.

We have a centrist president who throws in the towel on the pharmaceutical industry before he even gets started dealing with health care. Germany has a centrist Surgeon General who takes them on in his first few months on the job.

There are some good parallels, at least. Both men are getting a lot of attention for their racial characteristics, in countries with a terrible racist past. Both demonstrate that single parents can do a bang-up job at times. Rösler was raised by his father, Obama by his mother. And while it may be unfair to lay Wunderkind expectations on them, as many are doing, they do seem to be making it on their merits. Which says a lot about them. And a lot about the countries they grew up in and want to give something back to.

How nice to have something in the political sphere to feel good about.

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