Yesterday, Tuesday, April 6, I had my second firsthand experience with the French healthcare system, and it was just as I had expected: efficient and cheap.
I walked into the Centre de Santé – Réaumur’s emergency health center at noon and was admitted within twenty minutes. Ten minutes later, I was meeting with the doctor. After a thorough exam, diagnosis, and prescription, I was sent up to the 7th floor to have blood work done, simply to “verify.” The total cost of the visit was €44, plus the additional €12 I paid at the pharmacy to fill two week-long prescriptions. If I had been covered by French national healthcare, la Securité Sociale, the total cost of the hospital visit would have been €0.
Though the term “bedside manner” is completely foreign to the French, the overall experience was pleasant, given the circumstances. The doctors could not have been more attentive, the hospital was clean, and the wait was negligible, as were the costs.
Nevertheless, I left skeptical, thinking, “it can’t be this good, what’s the catch?”
The French pride themselves on having a healthcare system that is just as I had expected: efficient and cheap – a system in which everyone pays and everyone benefits. However, just because everyone is paying doesn’t necessarily mean everything is paid for. Increasing drug costs, decreasing birthrates, and increasing unemployment have left the government with no other choice but to cut back or raise taxes.
Many citizens do not consider cutbacks such as minimizing hospital staff and shutting down healthcare clinics to be an option, for healthcare is a right that ought to be equally available to everyone, no matter where they live or what they earn. Because the French are historically unwilling to reform their cherished healthcare system, it is the tax system they consider reforming. “We must raise taxes… but mostly for the rich. We are in a crisis and we need to reform,” claims Philippe, a 75-year-old farmer living in the Provençe region of France who calls himself a “political moderate.”
The current French tax system deducts from individuals’ pay immediately, so that there is no need for an April 15th, “tax day.” Because of this, people often do not process how much they are really paying out to the government… or perhaps they just accept it. “[The tax rates are] really not as bad as most people think it is, but US tax rates don’t begin to compare,” claims Amy, a 23-year-old American living and working in Paris, privy to all of the costs and benefits of la sécurité sociale.
Le Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party), who – as of last month – gained a sweeping political majority in France’s regional elections, is now advocating a further increase in taxes in order to offset rising healthcare costs. Le Parti Socialiste is proposing an increase in the bouclier fiscal (~ tax limit), which currently states that “direct taxes paid by a taxpayer may not exceed 50% of taxpayer’s revenues” in Article 1 of the Internal Revenue Code.
While there is no doubting that the overall level of care and minimal costs are aspirational, the French universal healthcare system is not without its drawbacks. Just as the U.S. is currently suffering from a lack of sufficient, available healthcare and money, so is France. Though the French system offers many short-term and long-term benefits, it is clearly not without its short-term and long-term costs.