VIVA FRENCH HEALTH CARE

It's a scandal, an abomination.  How can the United States, the world's fourth wealthiest nation according to the World Bank, continue to deny health insurance to every citizen?  Some 47 million Americans have no health insurance.  Will Congressmen and Senators continue to do battle over this vital issue while some 14,000 more Americans lose their health insurance everyday and another 2,500 file for bankruptcy due to medical costs?

One of the reasons my husband and I chose to retire to France five years ago was the excellent health care system.  Here's what a Business Week article had to say about French health care:

"In a recent World Health Organization health-care ranking, France came in first, while the U.S. scored 37th, slightly better than Cuba and one notch above Slovenia.  France's infant death rate is 3.9 per 1.000 live births, compared with 7 in the U. S., and the average life expectancy is 79.4 years, two years more than in the U.S.  The country has far more hospital beds and doctors per capita than America, and far lower rates of death from diabetes and heart disease."

As foreigners living here we are obliged to have private health insurance or join the national health insurance.  All French citizens have the state insurance, which we chose for cost reasons.  Our premiums are based on income, but are less than those for private insurance.  Our yearly premium varies with the exchange rate, but is currently about $2,300.

Both French workers and employers make obligatory contributions (deductions from salary for workers) to the national health insurance.  The system is also funded by tax on alcohol and tobacco.  Children up until 18 years of age are covered by their parents insurance.  If they pursue studies after the age of 18, they benefit from student health insurance.  If workers lose their jobs, they are still covered by the state health insurance.

Most medical costs are reimbursed at a rate of 70 percent.  To cover the additional 30 percent, most buy a supplemental insurance which, depending on the premiums paid, will reimburse all or a portion of the additional charges.  Our supplemental insurance costs 151 euros ($217) per month.

When you are accepted in the national insurance program, you receive a "carte vitale," a green plastic card akin to a credit card.  You present it when you visit a doctor, hospital, laboratory or pharmacy.  We were accepted into the system with no questions asked about pre-existing conditions.

You are obliged to have a "medecin traitant," a local generalist whom you visit first for any illness.  He or she will refer you to a specialist if needed.  Doctor visits to the medecin traitant cost 22 euros(about $31.50).  With our two insurances, state and supplemental, all is refunded. There are no deductibles. Reimbursements are paid directly into our bank account.

Specialist charges vary depending on the doctor.  I have been to many and in most cases have been fully reimbursed.  Prescription medications are almost always fully covered, and at the pharmacy, you just need to present your "green" card — no cash payment.

I've been hospitalized twice, once for a mysterious  infection, and once for hermia surgery.  Almost all surgery is covered at 100 percent, but I paid nothing for either hospital visit. I've  had numerious sessions of physical therapy for back and neck problems.  All were completely covered by the insurance.  I've had a colonoscopy, all sorts of blood tests, countless X-rays.  All completely covered.

Another bonus to French medical care: house calls.  Doctors make them.  After my hernia surgery, a visiting nurse came to the house to change my bandages several times a week.  A nurse came to our home twice to give us shots for a trip to Southeast Asia. (We purchased the serum at the pharmacy. It was not reimbursed.)

Even without supplemental insurance, those with a serious illness — 30 different diseases come under this category and include cancer, heart disease and insulin-dependent diabetes — are entitled to 100 percent reimbursement for all related expenses.  I have two British friends with MS.  Both get 100 percent reimbursement.  I have a French friend with cancer.  Not only are all his chemotherapy treatments completely reimbursed, the insurance also pays his taxi expenses to and from a hospital in a nearby town for the treatments.

Pregnant women are entitled to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, usually six weeks prior to the birth and then a following 10 weeks.  Fathers receive 11 consecutive days of paid paternity leave.  Both are funded by the French social security system.

I was recently prescribed a three-week "cure" for arthritis.  I am entitled to daily three hour-long treatments during this time at a medical spa — all completely covered.  In my case, I will have to pay for lodging and meals at the facility, but as it's only an hour away by car, I will probably opt to make the daily trip by car.

We're more than satisfied with French medical care.  Don't all Americans deserve similar benefits?  Not just some Americans — all Americans. 

For more about the fabulous French system, see the Business Week article, pointed out by my friend Lynne Cryster: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_28/b4042070.htm

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