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Is French Health System a Model for U.S.?

Is French Health System a Model for U.S.?

The Dallas Morning News

May 18, 2009

Bankruptcy looms for America as well. Health care absorbs more than 17 percent of the U.S. economy, or $2.4 trillion. The French fork over 11 percent.

In 2006, U.S. spending averaged $6,714 per person. The average resident of France spent $3,450. This year, U.S. spending is expected to near $8,000 per person, while French officials estimate spending there will come in below $5,000. It’s not that the French are younger. One in six of France’s 61 million people are over the age of 65; one in eight Americans are over 65.

France and the United States pay for their health care in different ways. Most U.S. health care spending is private. The government’s share — what you pay for in taxes for Medicare, Medicaid, military and other government employees — is 46 percent. The rest is paid through insurance split between employers and workers, and in out-of-pocket expenses borne by consumers.

In France, national health insurance pushes the government’s share of health care spending to 80 percent. Consumers and their employers pay for the rest through supplemental, private insurance and out-of-pocket expenses.

In both countries, patients with the money to pay for more or better care not covered by insurance are able to buy it through private clinics and doctors. Health expenditures have grown faster than prices for nearly everything else in both countries for many years, despite decades of reforms aimed at capping prices, supply and demand.

President Barack Obama has made a priority of providing health insurance for all Americans while lowering health care inflation. France has insurance for all but battles health care costs in the National Assembly every year.

Rationing by price

People in both countries tell pollsters that rationing health care is abhorrent, but both ration by price. American and French men and women who make too much money to qualify for indigent care, but too little to afford comprehensive insurance, often go without needed medical treatment.

France blends public and private insurers and hospitals with (mostly) self-employed doctors. There’s a national insurance plan that covers between 60 and 70 percent of health care spending for everyone. (Forty-six million Americans do not have health insurance.)

In France, private companies and trade groups offer supplemental health insurance. Consumers use it to pay the charges not covered by national insurance.

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