Over the past fifteen years the national government in the Federal Republic of Germany has animated the political debate about rising health care expenditures. However, it has only provided health policy leadership by shifting the burden of financing health and medical care to others. This paper presents three cases that illustrate the political and institutional constraints inherent in the German policy process that limit the proposal and implementation of appropriate policy solutions to rising health care costs. Cost controls have been inhibited because of the near-universal entitlement of national health insurance, the access all social groups have to advanced medical care, and policies targeted at providers rather than users of health services. The paper also underscores the past and future importance of regional policy coalitions in shaping national health policy.

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