Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Some Comments on French Health Care System

I just thought I'd put in my two pennies worth about the French system of universal healthcare.

In fact, I am a person who avoids doctors like the plague and only seek medical care in an emergency. Even so, I'd much rather be in France than in the U.S. when that emergency happens.

Medical emergencies
In 25 years, our family has only had two major emergencies and in both cases, the medical care was exceptional and cost us nothing. The first was when our 5-year-old daughter caught her foot in the spokes of my bicycle while in the carry-on seat. She almost lost her heel. The neighbor rushed us both to the emergency room of the nearest medical facility, a private clinic. We were met by a surgeon and she went straight into the operating room. We both stayed in a private room for a week. I had a cot in her room, could stay with her 24 hours a day, and had meals in the room with her. All we had to pay was for my personal telephone calls. Everything else was covered between social security and our teachers' mutual insurance. To this day, whenever any medical person sees her scar, they are amazed at the terrific job the surgeon did - she was within one centimeter of losing her entire heel.

The other occasion was when the coffee machine exploded on me and burned both hands and arms up to the elbow. Again I rushed to the same medical facility, was met by the same surgeon, and received instant top care. Again it cost us nothing. In fact, we then contacted our mutual and asked for household help, because I could not use my arms or hands. That same day, a specialized caregiver arrived on our doorstep, and was there to do anything that needed doing -- housework, meal preparation, driving.... She came every day for three weeks, until the burns were fully healed. Today I have no scars whatsoever, although at the time, all the flesh of my inner right arm had disappeared....

Giving birth
The French system has positive and negative points. One is that because everything is free, people tend to go to the doctor on the slightest pretext. They are also heavily over medicated. Each time I was pregnant, I was required to have an examination every month, plus an ultrasound at four months and another at 8 months. These experiences were traumatic for me -- they felt like a violation of my privacy and not necessarily good for the child. However when it came to delivery, I, like every other woman here, was kept in the hospital or clinic, for a full week after giving birth, and again, at no cost other than my phone calls. I have been told that in the U.S. costs for staying in the hospital just overnight after giving birth are astronomical.

Mental Health
When discussing medical coverage, we need to include mental health. When close relatives have needed mental health care, they have been able to walk straight into a clinic, and receive counselling, therapy, and psychiatric care at no cost. No identity papers had to be shown, no forms filled out. The care continued as long as needed.

Alcoholism is treated as an illness. One member of the family went to his doctor, confessed the problem, and was sent to an alcohol specialist who treated every aspect of the problem -- physical consequences, addiction, psychotherapy. If necessary, the person would have been sent to a reatreat -- however in this particular case, other solutions were found. The entire attitude towards alcoholism was very enilightened and effective -- and the person was charged nothing.

Similarly, when another member had a mental breakdown, she was able to go to a psychiatrist in a socio-medical center and follow therapy without ever laying out a dime or filling out a form or even showing an id card.

Pros and cons
The French social security system is much more comprehensive than anything in the U.S. The way it is financed contributes to the economic gridlock of the country, because social charges are so high that employers can't afford to hire additional personnel. Furthermore, the employer has to pay these charges whether or not s/he has had any income at all. This problem is being addressed in a variety of ways, as the government tries to find more flexible means of financing social care. In terms of medical and mental health care, as I mentioned, people tend to abuse the system -- going to the doctor for a sniffle, overmedicating, and not taking responsibility for their daily life.

Nonetheless, as I stated in the beginning, I'd rather be in France in an emergency than in the U.S. Furthermore, healthcare and a wide variety of childcare facilities were major reasons for staying in this country when the children were small.


Don't Believe What You are Told by Republicans

An American in France responds to a CNN story about Health care.
It starts with this:
"As an American living in France I speak about government health care based on experience. Don't believe it when you're told you won't be able to choose your doctors or treatment."

Watch the video here

Blog posted by Linda
Video by Sally in Paris