Overhauling the American health insurance system – a Herculean task to be sure, and the debate rages on through the summer months. I have my own strong opinions on this topic, but I am a bit surprised by the vehement response it has evoked among my fellow citizens.

We see daily images of angry citizens at ‘town hall meetings’ with their congressmen, senators, and President Obama, venting their disagreement with a ‘public option’ plan (ie, a proposed government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers) and their anger over confusion or lack of information regarding the details (there are five versions of healthcare reform in consideration by Congress), as well as the staggering price tag that accompanies any discussion of healthcare.

The need for controlling healthcare costs is not unique to the USA, however. Britain’s National Heath Service is facing a £15 billion (US$24 billion) shortfall in the coming years; France’s Assurance Maladie is expecting a shortfall of €9.4 billion ($13.5 billion) this year, and €15 billion in 2010, or roughly 10% of its budget.

And debate over healthcare costs is not a new topic. Indeed, the founding premise of many national/government-run/single-payer healthcare systems is the goal of cost control while providing a basic level of care for all citizens. The million (or trillion)-dollar question is, how do we accomplish that? The answer may lie somewhere between private and public payers, may vary with each country, and may change – out of necessity – over time depending on economic realities and political zeitgeist.

This week we highlight a collection of recently published resources for health economists who want to learn about healthcare systems in other countries. One of the great advantages of this Information Age and our shrinking world is the possibility of avoiding the proverbial reinvented wheel.