The Moment I Understood Why American Healthcare Sucks So Much

French vs American healthcare

I’m almost scared to write this lest I jinx myself: I am uninsured. That’s right, folks—no healthcare. Zip. And because of these circumstances and a recent visit to the doctor’s office, I’ve come to discover one more big reason why French healthcare is so great…especially compared to the U.S.

After Olivier and I quit our jobs at the start of April, we were both off our employers’ healthcare plans—the first time, I think, I’ve EVER been without insurance. Clearly, I’m not a risk taker. The very next day, we had ourselves signed up for travel health insurance that would cover us for any big incidents over the following two months, while we were traveling in Southeast Asia.

As expected (or at least hoped), we didn’t need that insurance once on our trip. But, of course, as soon as our trip—and our travel insurance—was up, I realized I needed a trip to the doctor. Two days away from our return to New York, without, of course, health insurance, I realized medicine couldn’t wait. So I braced myself for the wait and then the bill and got the contact info for a pregnant friend’s trusted doc.

I got an appointment the same day with a new doctor

When I called, I anticipated the usual: being put on hold for half an hour, having to plead as a new patient for a couple minutes of the doctor’s time, getting told the first available appointment was in three weeks.

But that wasn’t at all how things went down. I got an appointment, virtually no questions asked, three hours later that very same day (granted in the middle of the afternoon…but good luck with that in NYC). When I arrived I was greeted—with a smile!—by a friendly assistant.

It was PAINLESS when I arrived at the office

While I worried that I didn’t bring any form of ID or, of course, insurance proof on me, I only needed to give the assistant my name and date of birth.

I waited for all of 10 minutes before the doctor was ready to see me. She ran through the usual health history, etc.—and wrote me a prescription. In less than half an hour, I was done.

A specialist doctor appointment without insurance cost WAY less than expected!

But the real show-stopper: the cost of this appointment without insurance. 80€. Now I know 80€ is not cheap. But considering a similar appointment costs $37 just in insurance copays or somewhere in the range of $200 without insurance in the U.S., 80€ without insurance is a STEAL. The medication? 7€ at the pharmacy without insurance—WAIT WHAT?? Most antibiotics cost $100 in the US.

I know this was not a freak incident because it’s happened to me once before. When I was living and working in France 10 years ago, I had a very high fever and called SOS Medicins—French doctors who come to your home, usually within the hour. Same situation: They came within an hour, figured out why I was sick, wrote me a prescription. And charged me 10€ for that visit, even though I had yet to get my carte vitale (state-sponsored health insurance card). Now I realize that maybe they cut me a break on the price—but even at full cost, medicine in France sets you back a fraction of what it would in the United States.

Yet healthcare costs France less than in it does the U.S.

And yet, France seems to be doing just fine. In a 2000 report, the World Health Organization named the French healthcare system the best in the world for its availability and efficiency. And it doesn’t cost more than in the U.S.: According to the World Bank, as of 2014 the cost of healthcare in France is 11.5 percent of the GDP; in the U.S. it’s 17.1 percent; the cost of healthcare per person per year is $9,403 in the U.S….and $4,959 in France.

I’ve come to realize healthcare is actually a French value. A French friend who considers herself “right” politically (roughly equivalent to the U.S. left) told me there were three things she thinks every person has a right to: food, decent legal representation, and healthcare. While we in the U.S. have the first down (pretty much), the second covered (at least on paper—though as John Oliver has argued that legal council in the U.S. only works for the rich), our medicinal system is still lacking in a big way, even with the Affordable Care Act (though I still love you, Obama).

Because U.S. healthcare costs are inflated

Even with insurance—which, by the way, costs 6 to 8 percent of your salary in France vs. 23 percent in the U.S. — we still have a problem until the cost of medicine in the U.S. is reigned in.

American medicine is ridiculously expensive with costs rising faster than inflation, the prices driven up by bottom-line-driven hospitals and pharma companies.

Don’t get me wrong—I believe in capitalism…especially after a recent trip to Hanoi, communist capital of Vietnam. I just think that the market-driven solutions in the U.S. just aren’t working…and we could stand to learn a few things from France.

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