We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a quick rant.
Yesterday I woke up sick. Immediately I felt the deep sense of dread that I suspect a lot of Americans feel when they get sick in a way that they know will necessitate a doctor’s visit. Even with the comprehensive insurance I have always (blessedly) had from my father’s government job, my employers, and finally through the university where I teach, seeking care for a sudden ailment has always been a pain in the ass. I don’t need to hash out the details of the kind of time and money suck that even the smallest ailment can be in the United States. I’ve always had what you might call “the best case scenario” when it comes to health care in America, and yet an ear infection would still cost me a day of my life and a week’s worth of groceries.
I was also dismayed because I haven’t yet received my carte vitale from the French government. I’ve mentioned here before how slow the bureaucratic processes of immigration and integration are here in France, so I won’t bore you with the timeline. All that needs to be said is that as far as the French medical establishment is concerned, I’m a resident alien with no insurance. Please keep this in mind as I tell you the tale of my encounter with the terrors of socialized medicine yesterday.
I looked in an easily accessed, easy-to use online directory to find a généraliste, or primary care physician. I located one across the street from my apartment. I called him. He picked up the phone. I asked if he could see me that afternoon. “Yes,” he said, “come in at 4.” At 3:55, I walked across the street and was buzzed into a small waiting room. At 4:00 on the dot, the door to the office opened and the doctor invited me in to the exam room. After a careful conversation about my medical history, the doctor gave me a throughout exam (closer to an annual physical exam in the US) and completed the lab work for my ailment. This took approximately twenty minutes and he never left my sight. He carefully explained not only what he was doing during the exam, but also how he was going about analyzing my test results. When we hit a wall due to my limited French medical vocabulary, he switched into careful, studied English. We then had a conversation about the best strategy for treating my problem. He consulted a pharmacological resource to make sure that the American drugs I am allergic to were unrelated to the drugs he was prescribing. He laughed when I pulled out several over-the-counter medications from the US. He said that American always are quick to self-medicate and travel with their drugs, worried that they are going to experience barbaric medical conditions in France. I laughed sheepishly and tried to explain the peculiar behavior. I was charged 23 euros for this visit. I will be reimbursed in full for this out of pocket expense by the French government once I file the paperwork, but let me reiterate: an urgent-care doctor’s visit costs 23 euros up-front for people with no papers. No waiting. It would have been free if I had a carte vitale (all French citizens do). This is not a co-pay. I will not be receiving a huge bill in three weeks. This is the entire cost of one of the best medical exams I’ve ever received. I was told I could return the following day if I was having any further problems.
Two prescription orders in hand, I again crossed the street to one of the three pharmacies on my block. I walked in and directly up to the counter. The pharmacist (French pharmacists incidentally have a much more comprehensive medical training than their American counterparts) immediately retrieved my prescriptions from the back. He asked for my carte vitale and I explained I had not yet received my card. Again, I was given a form to fill out for reimbursement as he apologetically explained that I would have to pay up front for my prescriptions. Total cost of two prescriptions: 10 euros. Again, this is not a co-pay. This is the full cost of these drugs to someone without papers. I walked in my front door at 4:33 (thirty-eight minutes since I had left), two prescriptions in my possession, and completely amazed at how simple it is to seek out medical care in France.
So that’s it, and I’m sorry if I bored you with this tedious story, but I think it is kind of important that real Americans speak out about their encounters with socialized medicine if we are ever going to fight the demonization of government-run health care. I don’t know how to say it any more succinctly other than to say that, in my opinion, socialized medicine in France is better than the best private health care in the United States. In France you do not have to fight through miles of red tape to seek out care or sell your organs to pay for it. Moreover, the entirely fucked-up imbrication of pharmaceutical interests and advertising is illegal here. That’s right! I don’t have to see ads convincing me that I must have ailments I didn’t even know existed, like spare eyelashes or yellowish toenails! Pharmaceutical companies can spend their money on, oh, I don’t know, developing new medications! I know that it is pretty undisputed among intelligent folks that France has the best health care system in the world, but I thought I would give a brief account of what my experiences have been like first-hand. It seems that there are a lot of people in America who make a lot of suppositions about what things are like in Europe without ever having their passports stamped. I would also be really curious to hear about the experiences that other people have had elsewhere in Europe.
Sorry for the digression, I’ll be back to pasta tomorrow.