When you are an American living in France, getting sick has a silver lining. That silver lining is: you're in France! You're in France, the country that the World Health Organization rates the top on Earth for quality of health care and affordability. You're in France, where you know that, whatever you have, you will be taken care of. All you need to worry about is getting better.
Don't believe me? I do not doubt it, after reading the latest headlines on "the health care debate" from American news organizations. There is a lot of conflicting information out there, a lot of misinformation, too. So what's the truth? Does socialized medicine, also known as "a public system of national health care," really work? Do people in "those" countries really have to wait years in order to get reading glasses? Do the rich have to pay insane taxes in order to cover the poor? (If you're a European reading this, or if you are Japanese or Australian or Brazilian or Costa Rican or a person from any of the other countries that have socialized medicine, I apologize for what is probably, to you, a banal post. Or maybe you find it funny. I hope it's the latter.) But back to you, my fellow Americans. Universal health care does work, and it works all over the world. In a series of posts that I am calling "À AIMER: Getting Sick," I'll explain how it works in France and why it is something to cherish.
For today, Part One, I'd like to discuss the elephant in the room, the beast that is most responsible for driving the cost of American health care to unsustainable levels, and the beast that can be most easily trained: the American health insurance industry.
As you know, all French citizens are entitled to health care paid for by their government. It doesn't cover everything, but it covers a lot. I, though, as an American living in France under a visitor's visa, am not entitled to French government health care. So what do I do? I buy my own, private medical insurance from an insurance company that is regulated under French law.
This is what I pay for my private French medical insurance: €696 per year.
This is what I get:
- 100% of surgeries and hospitalizations paid beyond €50*, up to €30,000.
- 80% of hospitalizations without surgery paid.
- 100% of medical prescriptions paid.
- 70% of visits to medical doctors, both generalists and specialists, paid.
- 60% of laboratory analyses paid.
I am too lazy to write down everything for which my private insurance will reimburse me, but I can assure you that the list goes on. Oh, and that asterisk*? That's for the additional amount I must pay for my hospital room — €16 per night, more if I want a television. So let's say I get hit by a Vélib and end up in the hospital, where the staff realizes that I need an emergency appendectomy. And let's say I stay there three nights. I would pay €98.
"Ha," you say, "that can't be possible!" What about the cost of the surgery and the doctor's fees and the anesthesiologist's bill and the cotton balls? In the U.S., those fees would add up fast (in fact, they would add up to at least $10,400 and in some cases as much as $19,000). In France, a laparoscopic appendectomy costs, drum roll please, €284.09. And I would pay €50 of it, plus the €48 for my three-night hospital stay. Even if I had three surgeries in a year, I would not come close to hitting my insurance company's €30,000 ceiling.
Now do you see why I sometimes smile when I fall ill in France?
When I lived in the U.S., I never smiled when I got sick. The only silver lining I found stemmed, ironically, from the fear of financial ruin — it was so great, it sometimes made me forget my physical pain.
I wonder, now, if things have changed. So tonight, just for kicks, I am looking up the cost of private health insurance with one of my former insurers, Kaiser Permanente, which, back in the day, I referred to as Kaiser Soze. Is Kaiser Permanente still Kaiser Soze? Let's see.
Using my old zip code, I endeavor to find the cheapest Kaiser plan available.
And here it is: $136 per month, or $1,632 per year. It covers:
- 30% of my hospital expenses . . .
after I pay a $5,000 deductible.
For readers living in countries with socialized medicine, let me explain that: Kaiser Permanente will not cover a dime of my expenses until I pay them $5,000. Add that to my monthly dues for a total cost of $6,632 per year.
Are you, my American readers, shocked that Kaiser will cover just 30% of my hospital expenses after I pay them $6,632 when my French insurance company covers nearly 100% of my hospital expenses for just €696? If you are not, perhaps this will get you: in France, there is no deductible. I think that statement deserves capital letters: IN FRANCE, THERE IS NO DEDUCTIBLE!
I hope that President Obama and everyone in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate hears that, because it is the single law they can adopt that will immediately improve health care for all Americans: nix the deductible! Make it illegal. Start now, this week, and take care of the rest after your August vacations.
In the meantime, I'll be renewing my private health insurance — in France.
Note: The Kaiser plan also offers me one hearing test and one eye exam per year. Both paid by me, for $50 apiece.