A SPRAINED KNEE gave me an opportunity to hobble into a new doctor's office where I had time to think about the state of play in Irish health care. From Christmas correspondence, I know I have a better chance of getting health care in Ireland than many of my 50-something friends have in the States. Several of my college classmates, now into their third major round of employment since earning their degrees, are one illness away from financial ruin. They don't sign up for the company health care plan because it takes too much out of their paychecks. American businesses actually face competitive pressures from Irish, British, and German companies who don't have to pay for employee health cover. While flipping through some well-worn magazines in my newly-adopted GP's office, I watched two young moms register with the receptionist. Like me, they surprised the receptionist by saying they didn't have a medical card and just wanted to pay their own way. This kind of preventive medicine needs to be encouraged more in Ireland. People need to invest in their own wellness. For more than 30 years, I saw my GP (or flight surgeon) at least once every six months. The Little League coach, high school athletic director, and college intramural programme insisted on these check-ups. But in Ireland, it's easy to fob off a meaningful medical exam simply by declaring yourself fit. I don't think that's a healthy attitude so I've already booked in for my semi-annual check-up and I'll get my cholesterol results a few days before my next birthday. Prevention is this man's best cure.