Jim Landers of the Dallas Morning News has an excellent article on the views of former Texans about the health care they receive in France. The article tells the good and the bad about one of the best health care systems on the planet. It’s apparent that France’s mix of basic public coverage for everyone and private supplemental plans for those who can afford it, could prove instructive and perhaps inspirational to legislators seeking to reform America’s system.
The French and socialized medicine are two favorite targets of those who seek to divide America rather than unite her. The French were largely derided for refusing to blindly follow our adventures into Iraq, a bold stance that took American voters a few more elections to come around to. Might I suggest that France may be ahead of the curve on health care, too?
We pay substantially more than the French do for health care – both as individuals and as a society. They get house calls; we get long waits at the emergency room. Besides paying less, the French live longer and their infant mortality rate is lower. People in France are also free to see any doctor they choose, so there is another bogeyman that evaporates in the light of information.
Doctors in France make less than their counterparts here. But they also get free Med school and pay a mere fraction of what their American cousins do for malpractice insurance. They are free to charge their patients whatever they want, and the private market sorts those rates out to ones that are much lower than what we pay.
No system is perfect, and that, by definition, includes France’s. But when you see industry shills on TV cherry-picking the bad and sweeping the good under the rug, just remember that health care in the United States is a huge, incestuous industry that needs far more than the nip and a tuck these talking heads are promoting. Count the number of pharmaceutical ads the next time you sit in front of a TV and ask yourself: how do the dollars spent here add to your family’s health care costs?
The French hybrid of basic coverage for all, private supplements for some, may be much more adaptable to America than the systems of some other countries. We already have an operating blueprint in Medicare. Instead of just covering our elderly, let’s take this program, which already operates more efficiently than the private sector, and expand it to cover everyone. The nips and tucks needed here are far fewer than the system as a whole.
Back in 2003, when France opposed our proposed invasion of Iraq, some flag-wavers in Congress made its cafeteria rename french fries to “freedom fries” in a misguided attempt at patriotism. Perhaps the same linguistic acrobatics needs to be done with the French health care system. We could call it “freedom health care” – freedom to change jobs without losing your coverage – freedom to choose your own doctors – financial freedom to not go bankrupt because a family member gets cancer – freedom to get health care for a sick child, regardless of your ability to pay.
It’s not unAmerican to look outside our borders for solutions to the problems we face. It’s just smart. Let’s not let our arrogance get in the way. Sure, America has the best health care in the world – if you can afford to go to the Mayo clinic. But if you are in the middle class, wake up. We are paying too much for too little, while leaving a large swatch of our population out to dry.