Wednesday, July 29, 2009

French Health Care

I've had it up to here with people misrepresenting the French health care system. As the U.S. discusses the kind of country it wants to be when it comes to providing its citizens with access to medicine, doctor's visits, and life-saving surgery, France is often used as a bogeyman. "Ooooh, watch out, we might turn into France! We might become Socialists!" As my second favorite country's name gets dragged through the mud, I can't help thinking about my own experience with health care in France. It wasn't perfect, but it certaintly wasn't the nightmare some people would lead you to believe.

As a graduate student at Sciences Po in Paris, I was covered under the French health care system. I paid the equivalent of $300 for the semester, which granted me comprehensive coverage. During this time, I went to a doctor's office three times and got lab work done once. I never waited longer than one waits in an American doctor's office, the facilities were not sub-standard, and the government didn't come between me and my doctor. No piles of paperwork to fill out (like I have in the U.S.). No worrying about whether or not my insurance would cover it (like I do in the U.S.). I simply chose the physician I wanted to see (none of this in-group, out-group crap), paid a few small fees (generally 22 euros for a visit, much of which was refundable), got my instructions or prescriptions from the doctor and went on with my life. The security of it all felt amazing.

Of course, no system is without flaw. I do remember the incident of the laboratoire misplacing my payment record for some lab work I had done. They kept sending bills to my apartment long after I was back in the states, and a French friend eventually had to go pay the bill for me, but hey, shit happens. The cost of said lab work? About 20 euros. For lab work, people! Does this sound like a terrible system to you? I know, I know, French people pay taxes to get this stuff. That's true, they do. But the French people I know, who are roughly my age, and who are employed, and who have the same level of education as I do are not crippled under the weight of taxes. They drive nice cars, go on three week vacations (leaving them still with two weeks or more for the year), live in comfortable apartments, and aren't saddled with thousands upon thousands of dollars of student loan debt. They also will never go bankrupt because they get sick. Wow, aren't you glad we don't have that system?

13 comments:

Cancemini4 said...

Was JUST reading about this on the 'I Prefer Paris' blog! Richard had a surprisingly painless trip to the Hotel Dieu http://www.ipreferparis.net/2009/07/er.html

Melina said...

LoL I loved this post, especially because I've doing various doctors/dentists visits lately, and have been suprised at how easy, quick and painless the whole process was. And I've gotten almost 100% paid back for everything! Its great when you dont hold off on taking care of yourself because you aren't worried about how much its going to cost you..

Zhu said...

There are so many misconceptions about various health systems in the world, it's not even funny.

I argued with Americans who criticized "socialized" health care - I don't see where is the "socialized" part of it. It's not like the Communists are invading or something!

Meanwhile, a lot of my French friends ask me how I do to pay health bills in Canada. Well, I don't... Canada has basically the same system as France!

Mark said...

America missed the boat on health care a long time ago. Hopefully we will at least get affordable insurance coverage for nearly everybody. Why people (mostly republicans) are against this is madness.

I can afford insurance even if it would cost my family $12,000 in premiums alone to have personal coverage - as opposed to a group plan from an employer. But how many families can afford that? That is the on par with what families pay for personal coverage. Then there is the deductible and lots of things that are not fully covered, out of network costs, etc. How can this system be something anyone would defend?

I previously lived in France for 15 years and enjoyed the easy health care. Not just when I was sick but also the preventative care that you wouldn't even imagine having done here in the US because no insurance company would cover it (except maybe Kaiser Permanente, but they are different because they are both insurer and provider of services).

I took my daughter to the emergency room once and it cost us 18 euros in what you could call a co-pay.
A birth wasn't much more. Socialized (not socialist) medicine is the best for delivering health care to all. Prescriptions are also the least expensive in France because the govt has negociated (some say dictated) the price with the pharma companies.

Free enterprise is great but not in health care. The US is proof of that.

Tanya said...

@Cancemini4, I love that it's called "Hotel Dieu."

@Melina, Did you go to the cute little office next door to your place? Saw him for my pre-gym membership check-up.

@Zhu, Thanks for helping clear up the misconceptions!

@Mark, My favorite part about your comment is that you express concern for the families that aren't as lucky as yours to be able to afford health care (although, how lucky is anyone who has to pay these ridiculous prices?). I hear too many people say "I have health care, and I don't care about anyone else. That's their problem." This breaks my heart.

Enchanted Traveler said...

Tanya, thank you for a wonderful post. My thoughts exactly! My republican neighbor said the exact thing last week. He lost his job, has no health insurance at all for his family (wife and 2 young children, but says we can't possibly go with gov't run health care because we dont want to end up like France!!! Unbelievable. We should be so lucky!

Anonymous said...

As a Republican Francophile, I have to put my 2 cents in here. I don't understand why Republicans are always considered the bad guys just because we call a spade a spade - government-sponsored healthcare IS socialist. The connotation you place on that word is yours and yours alone, but the fact of the matter is that France is a socialist country, for better or for worse. And I am the first to admit that the health care system there works pretty well for them, and I found it extremely convenient when I lived there. However, France is also a much smaller nation and therefore easier to manage from the top. Have you ever been to a free (aka government-run) clinic in the United States? Try it sometime. You are likely to wait 4-6 hours minimum to be recommended over-the-counter cough syrup. My fear is that, if the U.S. government were to attempt to provide universal health care, this would become the standard. Many will say that this is the case in Canada. The United States is a huge country with an unfortunately inefficient government that is not, at this time, prepared to handle such a massive undertaking. To phase out private healthcare at this point would be catastrophic. Not to mention that it would completely destroy that pesky principle of limited government that our founding fathers valued so dearly. The grass is always greener . . .

Tanya said...

@Enchanted Traveler, I wonder if your neighbor would change his mind if someone in the family were to become sick. No job and no insurance with two kids is a scary prospect, indeed.

@Anonymous, Thank you for chiming in here. I have a number of Republican Francophile friends, and always appreciate your points of view! What if we took "governtment run" health care out of the picture? Would you agree there are some things that could be changed to make our system more fair, and better able to serve the health needs of ALL Americans? For example, these 8 consumer protection measure the White House is pushing: http://www.whitehouse.gov/health-insurance-consumer-protections/

Also, I think you're selling the capability of the U.S. short. We have the most powerful military in the world, and it's government run. Why couldn't we have the best health care in the world, also government run?

Anil said...

Reminds me of this Daily Show clip:

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-april-21-2009/the-stockholm-syndrome-pt--1

Tanya said...

@Anil, Thank you for reminding me about this Daily Show clip. I love it, and part 2 is fantastic as well! What would we do without Jon Stewart?

Will said...

Somebody told me that when Thailand was revamping their healthcare system, they did some kind of massive study of various systems around the world, took what worked from each one, made sure they didn't do what didn't work, and now their system rocks.

My experience in France was similar to yours--two visits to a primary care doctor, some lab work, and a visit to a specialist--and I paid a grand total of 25 euros. All within the space of three weeks, no bureaucrats telling me what to do. On the other hand, I've heard horror stories about healthcare in Britain and Canada.

But since America is the greatest country in the world, goddangit, we clearly don't have anything to learn from anyone else, so let's waste everyone's time trying to solve problems from the ground up that have already been successfully dealt with elsewhere!

Tanya said...

@Will, thanks for sharing your story. I like what Thailand did (study other systems, take the best from each), but it's like you said: we think we have nothing to learn from anyone else. So ridiculous. And sad, really.

TrekGirl1106 said...

AMEN! I spent 3 years in Australia and working on moving to Paris for my grad school (a bit late, in my 40s), but hell. My father sends me all these scary emails about "waiting in 8 hour lines", getting "turned away from care" etc, etc, IF we go under the "O'bama Healthcare plan! I lived with socialized medicine. I paid more taxes, yes, but EVERYONE paid his/her 45%! NO LOOP HOLES. I never had to wait in line and was never denied any care...in fact I got rebates/refunds for my co pays. ROCK ON EU! ROCK ON Australia! Basic healthcare is a HUMAN right, not a right of the privileged!