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We Need French Healthcare – The Facts

July 25, 2009

The Facts:

• 46 million Americans are currently without health insurance;
• 60 million Americans, both insured and uninsured, have inadequate access to primary care due to a shortage of physicians and other health service providers in their community;
• 100 million Americans have no insurance to cover dental needs;
• 116 million adults, nearly two-thirds of all non-seniors, struggled to pay medical bills, went without needed care because of cost, were uninsured for a time, or were underinsured in the last year;
• The United States spends $2.3 trillion each year on health care, 16 percent of its Gross Domestic Product;
• Americans spend $7,129 per person on health care, 50 percent more than other industrialized countries, including those with universal care;
• The U.S. does not get what it pays for. We rank among the lowest in the health outcome rankings of developed countries, and on several major indices rank below some third-world nations;
• The number of health insurance industry bureaucrats has grown at 25 times the growth of physicians in the past 30 years;
• In 2006, the six largest insurance companies made $11 billion in profits even after paying for direct health care costs, administrative costs and marketing costs.

Senator Bernie Sanders’ Proposed Single-Payer, Medicare-for-all Solution:

• Medicare has administrative costs far lower than any private health insurance plan;
• The potential savings on health insurance paperwork, more than $350 billion per year, is enough to provide comprehensive coverage to every uninsured American;
• Only a single-payer Medicare-for-all plan can realize these enormous savings and provide comprehensive and affordable health care to every citizen.

My Own Thoughts

The first thing we need to examine is this chart below:

U.S. Healthcare Costs Vs Wages

It’s obvious this system is unsustainable.  If health care costs continue to rise faster than wages, year after year, nobody will be able to afford healthcare.  If we consider the economic recession, people are already on the edge of what they can afford. They don’t have any more money to pay out.  For these reasons healthcare reform has to happen soon.

So where does the U.S. stand in terms of healthcare? Are there any other countries out there with a successful healthcare system, which we should consider modeling ourselves after, or are we going to have to sail off into uncharted waters?

Back in 2000 the World Health Organization did an intense study, and ranked all the countries’ healthcare systems. Each nation was ranked according to how long people lived in good health, access to care, and other factors like that.  France came out in first place.  The United States was ranked #37, right in there with some third world countries. Michael Moore pointed this out in his film ‘Sicko’.

Later some independent researchers contested the story, thinking it had flaws.  They argued that other factors determined things like long life, and more had to be considered.  So two researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine measured something they call, “amenable mortality”.  In short, it measures how many deaths could have been prevented by access to health care.  Once again, France took first place.  The United States ranked DEAD LAST.

Considering the French love their system, and it’s #1 in the world, let’s see how their system works.  We should probably model ours like theirs.

First off, the French healthcare system is not socialized medicine, like much of Europe.     They use both private insurance AND government insurance.  Also, similar to Americans, most French get their healthcare insurance from their employers.

In France, everyone has access to healthcare, but there are no long waiting lists for surgeries, or to see a specialist.  Part of this is due to their system being better, but there are also a higher concentration doctors as well.   The French have one physician for every 430 residents, whereas we have one physician for every 1230 residents.  Combine a better system, and the fact that it’s less crowded, and you’re bound to be better off.

News commentators have told us about the long lines which exist in Canada and Britian.  That’s completely true.  It does exist…for them anyways, but not the French.  The French are all about choice.  The more choices, the better.

The real lie we’re being told is that if we implement a universal healthcare system, we have to give up our choice of doctors, and other care.  That’s not the case in France.  Their system is structured to where individuals can choose whatever physician and specialist they want, and doctors are not encumbered in government regulation.  They make their own medical decisions.

So how is the French system funded?  Taxes.  Income tax and payroll tax.  This money goes into a quasi-public insurance fund that negotiates with medical unions, and sets doctor fees.  Doctors, however, are not forced to stay within this system.  They can practice medicine completely outside the system, if they wish.  Patients pay these doctors straight out of pocket.  Their government regulates hospital fees.

So their taxes must be INSANE right?  75% of their income must be sucked out by the government!  Not so.  Their system is expensive, no doubt, but our system is almost twice as expensive, yet we get crappy care.  We spend $7129 per person on care.  The French spend half that.  In 2005, they spent $3300 per person.

When tax time rolls around for the French, approximately 21% of their income is taken out for their national healthcare expenses.  Employers typically pay a little more than half of this.   We Americans don’t spend as much in taxes, but we end up paying a lot more in the end.  Once you add up what we pay for insurance policies, medications, and other out-of-pocket expenses, we end up paying a LOT more.

Medical bills are split between the national insurance plan, and private insurance.  70% is paid for by the national insurance plan, whereas the other 30% is paid for by private insurance.  Almost everyone has private insurance, so this is how it goes for most people, in most cases.  Private insurance is very affordable, and employers pay for it most of the time.

French citizens must have compulsory health insurance.  The insurers are private entities, not linked the the State.  An employee pays 0.75% of his or her paycheck toward this private insurance.  Employers pay 12.8% of the employee’s salary into this same plan.

As for the poor, those earning less than 6600 euros a year (approximately $9400 USD) do not have to pay anything.

“There are no uninsured in France,” says Victor Rodwin, a professor of health policy at New York University, who is affiliated with the International Longevity Center. “That’s completely unheard of. There is no case of anybody going broke over their health costs. In fact, the system is so designed that for the 3 or 4 or 5 percent of the patients who are the very sickest, those patients are exempt from their co-payments to begin with. There are no deductibles.”

Us Americans would find the French system strange.  Over here, the worse your health, the more insurance companies try to push you aside, and avoid you.  If you’re in bad health, no one wants to mess with you.  In France, it’s the exact opposite.  Over there, the sicker you are, the MORE coverage you get.  If you have a long term illness, such as diabetes, cancer, or even a mental illness, 100% of your bills are covered.  Surgeries, doctor visits, medications, therapies… everything.  100% taken care of.  In my opinion this is how it should be.

France makes guarantees that cancer patients get every drug and treatment available, no matter the cost.  Even if these drugs are experimental and still being tested.

Considering how much money we’re ALREADY spending, if we just copy the French, we can have top-notch care for half the cost.   So let’s do it!  There seems to be enough momentum behind healthcare reform now.  If people are given the right information we can make this happen.

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