Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Now here’s an addendum for Michael Moore’s film, Sicko: I have a French friend who is very pregnant with her second child. Due to the configuration of her pelvis, her first delivery was by Cesarean. She was all prepared to have another Cesarean, but this time around, the midwives at the hospital are turning themselves inside out to get her to give birth “naturally.” Without her requesting it, she has been treated to acupuncture, homeopathy, and something called sophrology, a touchy feely technique which I had never heard of before I came to France. By the way, she is not paying a Euro cent for any of this. While I am marveling that she gets all this free alternative medicine without her even asking, she keeps telling me that she’d rather just have the Cesarean and be done with it.
I admit, I am a major fan of the French health system. As I have mentioned before, I had brain surgery here at one of the best hospitals in Europe, and the only bill I ever saw was for using the telephone. French doctors love me. "What? You only get 23 Euros for an appointment? You deserve more than that!" They don’t get to hear that very often. In fact, there are French people who complain that 23 Euros is too much. Never mind that those 23 Euros are reimbursed by Social Security, so they don't even really pay anything. True, there are plenty of specialists who cost a lot more, and not all of their fees are covered. But most employers offer supplemental health insurance, so in the end, almost everything is covered. Even when it's not, it's a fraction of what it would cost in the US. Naturally, the system is outrageously expensive for the government, so there is constant talk of reform and then shrieks of horror from those same French people who were complaining (grumbling is sort of a national pastime here). So things change at a snail's pace, and at every tiny change, people start to say that now France is on the slippery slope and soon the health system will be like that in America. When this happens, I say "relax, you have no idea how much your system will have to change to reach that point..."
That said, the current proposed reforms regarding hospitals make my hair stand on end. I keep thinking about what happened to American hospitals a decade or so ago when our brilliant bureaucrats decided that it would be just too cool to run the public hospitals like for-profit businesses. I believe that was the beginning of the end, or perhaps the beginning of a new era of hospitals that have so little regard for patients that you don’t dare stay in one without an advocate (family or friend) to fend for you.
In France, access to good health care is considered a right, right up there with Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité. There was a mini revolution here in 1936, when social security was first established, along with paid vacations and retirement benefits. French people don’t consider themselves lucky to have a social security net, they feel they fought for it, and they deserve it. Maybe when we decide that we deserve it, it will happen in the US too.