The Treatment

Look Who Loves French Health Care

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It's Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of the very libertarian Reason magazine:

To put it plainly, when free marketers warn that Democratic health care initiatives will make us more “like France,” a big part of me says, “I wish.” It’s not that I think it’s either feasible or advisable for the United States to adopt a single-payer, government-dominated system. But it’s instructive to confront the comparative advantages of one socialist system abroad to sharpen the arguments for more capitalism at home.

For a dozen years now I’ve led a dual life, spending more than 90 percent of my time and money in the U.S. while receiving 90 percent of my health care in my wife’s native France. On a personal level the comparison is no contest: I’ll take the French experience any day. ObamaCare opponents often warn that a new system will lead to long waiting times, mountains of paperwork, and less choice among doctors. Yet on all three of those counts the French system is significantly better, not worse, than what the U.S. has now. ...

In France, you are covered, period. It doesn’t depend on your job, it doesn’t depend on a health maintenance organization, and it doesn’t depend on whether you filled out the paperwork right. Those who (like me) oppose ObamaCare, need to understand (also like me, unfortunately) what it’s like to be serially rejected by insurance companies even though you’re perfectly healthy. It’s an enraging, anxiety-inducing, indelible experience, one that both softens the intellectual ground for increased government intervention and produces active resentment toward anyone who argues that the U.S. has “the best health care in the world.”

Since 1986 I’ve missed exactly three days of work due to illness. I don’t smoke, I don’t (usually) do drugs or drink to excess, and I eat a pretty healthy diet. I have some back pain now and then from a protruding disc, but nothing too serious. And from 1998 to 2001, when I was a freelancer in the world’s capital of freelancers (Los Angeles), I couldn’t get health insurance.

Kaiser rejected me because I had visited the doctor too many times in the 12 months preceding my application (I filled in the “3-5 times” circle, to reflect the three routine and inexpensive check-ups I’d had in France). Blue Cross rejected me too. There weren’t many other options. Months later, an insurance broker told me I’d ruined my chances by failing to file a written appeal. “You’re basically done in California,” he said. “A rejection is like an arrest--if you don’t contest it, you’re guilty, and it’s on your permanent record.”

Welch's preference for French health care is not unqualified. But it is clear, expressed with admirable honesty, and consistent with the facts.

It's also a reminder of something Ezra points out today: The debate over the cost of health care reform has become ridiculously lopsided, in the sense that it measures cost purely in terms of dollars rather than human suffering, whether in the form of mere aggravation or sheer misery.

Thanks to Don McCanne, from Physicians for a National Health Plan, for sending this along.

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