Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Take two aspirins, because that's all the affordable health care there seems to be here

by Larry Geller

From French Health Care: C'est Magnifique, a report from ABC News:

As presidential candidates hammer out proposals to deal with the increasing millions of uninsured Americans, I know which health plan I'll choose: the French one.

The World Health Organization has named the French health care system the best in the world. (The U.S. ranked 37th). It's physician-rich, boasting one doctor for approximately every 430 people, compared with a doctor for every1,230 residents in the U.S. (and French docs tend to charge significantly less). The average life expectancy is two years longer than the U.S. And while the system is one of the most expensive in the world, costing $3,500 per person, it's far less than the $6,100 spend per capita in the U.S.

I've had a unique opportunity to see both systems up close and personal: I had breast cancer in California nine years ago and a recurrence in Paris this year. I received excellent care in both places, though looking back now my California oncologist's office was a bit of a meat market always packed with patients, from the seemingly not-so-sick to some a step from the grave a time-consuming disadvantage of living in a much larger country with a lower doctor-to-patient ratio.

My French doctors and nurses have been sensitive, skillful, caring and not so harried.

But the biggest difference has been money.

My top-level health insurance paid for most of my U.S. care, but it was often a struggle to shake loose the money. I was frequently stuck in the middle of disputes between the company and my hospital and doctors over "agreed to fees."

Continually dunned by the hospital for fees and facing multiple complaining phone calls to my insurance company, I sometimes simply caved in and wrote checks to cover bills that I knew were the insurance company's responsibility part of a wearing-down strategy I was convinced was deliberate.

Here in France I have a green carte vitale, literally a "life card" or social security card that provides entree to the system. It's funded by worker contributions and other taxes. My husband (and our family) is covered through his work with a French subsidiary of a U.S. company, and so is everyone else; coverage is universal. The French are responsible for co-pays, but some 80% of them have supplemental private insurance to cover the co-pay. People least able to pay and those with chronic or serious illnesses often have the best coverage. Because I'm being treated for cancer, I'm cent pour cent 100%covered.

The effect of a system where hospitals and doctors don't worry about getting stiffed by a patient or an insurance company seems to be a far more relaxed, generous system. When my surgeon discussed breast surgery here, he suggested that I stay in the hospital five days. "Of course I can do it the American way, kind of an outpatient situation," he told me, apparently not wanting to sound unsophisticated. "But I don't like pain."

Maternity stays for a normal delivery are a minimum of five days, not the 48 hours mandated by U.S. federal legislation in 1998 after many insurance companies insisted stays be even shorter.

The US is ranked 37th in the world (yikes!)... now take those two aspirins and read any of the current articles Google will find for you on the decrease in life expectancy in this country.  

Yet neither Obama, Clinton nor McCain is proposing single-payer health care. Their plans ensure the health of insurers, not patients.

Want to take action? Choose your methodology. Write letters to the editors, or ask newspapers and TV why their reporters are not pressing the candidates on real health care reform. Take it up with your superdelegates. Do something.


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