Monday, 1 October 2007

Ramblings about France and salt for Michael Moore

Last week we finally watched Sicko. If you'd been a fly on the wall, you'd have repeatedly heard me saying, "gross!" or ," we are never moving to the US." Sorry Mom! To answer your questions, yes the French health care system is that good. And yes, most people don't have debt, don't worry about putting money away so their unborn children can go to college. And then there's all the vacation...But always take Michael Moore's with a grain of salt. The "average, middle class" family in Paris interviewed in the movie is NOT middle class. If you just take their income as a basis, it is equivalent to a US middle class income. However, salaries in France tend to be lower than American salaries and so is the cost of living. So the family he interviewed was more "comfortable" than "middle class".

That said, I was stuck in the middle of one of those typical French conversations last week where you listen to the very knowledgeable French people around you discuss politics, Sarkozy's new immigration law, health care, Sufi literature and you just shake your head in agreement. One of those conversations that makes you feel small and unworldly and stupid. Young mothers just don't have time to keep up with the news! The basic gist of the conversation was something like Sarkozy is privatizing everything so in 50 years the system France knows will not be the same. There will be no health socialized health care, no universal access to university education, less vacation, more work, less immigration and the public housing will be gone. Also, Sarkozy's immigration laws are anti-French and anti-socialist because he is preventing rapprochement familial (immigrants from joining their families), where family is the foundation of good values and good citizens.

One of the wonderful things about France is that the people are taken care of for the most part, mostly in a preventative way, not coddled but sometimes abused. France has wonderful social housing - I should know since I've lived in it for 5 years. And the health care is top notch. I had a free 5 day stay in the maternity ward of a public hospital- they tacked on the 5th day just to make sure I had the breast feeding thing down pat. Over the past 5 years, I've had physical therapy a few times and gotten my orthopedic insoles renewed every year whereas in the US, the HMO wouldn't pay for the insoles or physical therapy but would pay for a new knee!

And although Sarkozy may be leaning toward the American model, I don't see the French people or government giving in without a fight. Drastic changes to the social system would cause some serious civil unrest. One of my good friend's husbands is a political science professor at a top US university. During the French elections he said that Sarkozy wasn't so bad. True that because of the basic context of the French system, Sarkozy is more socialist, more left wing than most left wing American politicians. But in that same context, he is much more right wing than anyone before him.

Say what you will about France, the French, the waits, the administration, the dog shit...but it's a great country to live in. Less worries for more hassles maybe, but less debt, less stress, more holiday. You decide.

And don't forget that salt for Michael Moore.


Elisabeth said...

I've said it before. I am very seriously considering retiring in France.

wcs said...

Right on, Reb. While the US crows about family values, France actually practices them.

Great observations.

frog4america said...

A grain of salt ? More like a mine !

Sure the US health care system has its weaknesses. But the french system is driving the country to bankruptcy, even though those who make a decent living pay as much as 60% of their income in taxes (excluding VAT, naturally), and i'm not talking about rich people, more like US middle class level.

There is an interesting article in the LA Times this morning :,0,7898945.story?coll=la-home-center

The french system is already unaffordable at is (and morally bankrupt), but if you add $100-150 billion to the tab every year, do you think the US upper-middle class will gladly give up 80% of their income ?

Betty C. said...

Another expat friend and I promised that we would never, ever complain about France again after seeing "Sicko."

That lasted about one hour. Then we got onto the school system...

Seriously, of course France is a great place to live. Aren't most Western nations?

Reb said...

Frog4america, the French system might be unaffordable to the nation, but the American system is unaffordable for everyone. Shouldn't the country be taking care of its citizens rather than putting them in debt, or worse letting them die, because they can't afford to pay for a life saving operation? I was floored when a couple years ago my mother had to have back surgery and her doctor discussed her taking a lone for necessary suregery that her HMO had refused. The result? She has lost feeling in both feet, can no longer drive yet spends all day on her feet as a school teach. Isn't there something wrong there?

frog4america said...

Reb, i'm only saying that despite what Michael Moore says, Sicko paints an absurdly rosy picture of socialist health care systems, including france's.

Here's the reality that Sicko doesnt show : Health care costs represent a good chunk of our absurd taxation levels, driving thousands of people away from this country every year, leading the ones who stay to work less because the extra money would go to the government anyway. Even sadder : it's not even enough because these costs add billions to our humongous national debt every year !

On top of that everyone here has some form of complementary private insurance. If you want to be able to choose a particular surgeon, it is common practice to pay him and his anesthesist a few hundreds (if you are of modest means) to a few thousands under the table. Most public hospitals are understaffed, personnel is overworked and underpaid, accomodations are in less than adequate condition, but no biggie, if you can pay extra the surgeon will find you a nice room in his private clinic where you'll receive a better level of care.

France and the others are no role models when it comes to health care. Being disingenuous about it makes Michael Moore's movie look like a political instrument.

Reb said...

His movie is a political instrument...

Point taken, but the French system is still better for the majority of people than the US system. Hence the salt.

Just to add to the discussion, a friend in the UK was scheduled for outpatient surgery yesterday - getting a metal plate removed from a bone she broke last year. She spent all day in the hospital waiting on an empty stomach. No food, no water. At 5pm, they came and said, "sorry, it's too have to reschedule". She tried, but there's no appointments until early 2008.

frog4america said...

Sorry for my poor writing skills. Just for the record, I'm equally bad at getting my point across when writing in french. Michael Moore is an American, he's exercising his freedom of speech and his right to political activism, no way I would criticize that. My problem is with the spin he puts on socialist systems. It makes it look like Michael Moore and his camp were desperately looking for a problem to their solution, that's what I criticize.

Back to your last points. Nobody would argue about the wait times in the UK, french people in the northwest have repeatedly protested against the huge numbers of Brits seeking medical care over there, making lines longer for the indigenous population.

But ! Guess which country has the shortest wait times in the whole world ? Yep, USA !

Which brings the question : costs aside, what do you think of America's health care quality ? Many people say the US has the best health care money can buy. Would you disagree with that statement ?

Our cousins bought their home in Florida so they would be close to their American doctors. Their home country was Venezuela, they visited us in France occasionally, but they only trusted American doctors. Their cardiologist worked at the Heart Institute in Miami. They worshipped him and couldnt praise the staff enough. They paid hundreds of thousands of dollars (over the course of several years) so they could benefit from, in their own words, the best health care in the entire world.

An anecdote : there has been so many articles about people whose kids had rare deseases that french doctors has little knowledge of, and who needed donations so the kids could be flown to... the US, where treatment was expensive, but these people were more focused on the fact that at least there was a treatment available. Do you have examples of people flying to France because french doctors could cure an illness that US doctors could not ? I have never heard of any such example.

But from what i understand your gripe against the US system comes from the raw deal customers (and even wealthy people get swindled big time) get from health care insurance pirates. Do you really think dismantling the whole system and replacing it with a french-like socialized system should be presented as the only alternative ?

Deb said...

I love the US, I just can't stand how we treat our own people.

Regarding the middle-class French people in that documentary, my hubby said the same thing. "That's not middle-class!".

Although Michael Moore might not always be completely accurate, he gets it right for the most part. There are way too many guns (Bowling for Columbine), and not enough (or good) healthcare coverage in the US. And let's not even start about 9/11.

We need some positive change in the US. Well, at least Bush will be out of office soon!

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