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The health care dilemma: comparing France and the US

Health Care - Obama Care - Time- France vs US - MyFrenchLife.orgAs an expat living in America, low health care costs and affordable health coverage are some of the things I miss most about France.

Where France is known for offering very good coverage and aid in relation to education, child care, housing and health, America is quite the opposite.

America vs. France: money doesn’t mean quality

The United States has been ranked last in the quality of its health care system among similar countries by The Commonwealth Fund, and third last in a 2013 Bloomberg study.

In the same study, France is in the 19th position out of 48 countries, while in 2000 the World Health Organization found that France provided one of the best overall health care systems in the world.

As to the individual costs, the US is one of the nations that spends the most, ranking second in health care costs per capita at $8,608, while France spends only $4,086 per capita.

New York - Health Care France vs US - MyFrenchLife.org

How does health care coverage differ?

In America, 60-65% of health care provisions come from organizations like Medicaid, an insurance program for individuals and families with low incomes and few resources.

This service caters for about 40 million people, as of 2007, and costs about $330 billion. Medicare, a Federal health insurance program for elderly and disabled, is another organisation, serving more than 44 million enrollees as of 2008 and costing about $432 billion as of 2007.

Other people are generally insured through their employer or a family member’s employer. If employed in a public job, you will be insured through the government or alternatively, many people buy their own private health insurance. The range of coverage for health care costs will depend on the organization chosen.

Paris Ministère-de-la-Santé - Health Care France vs US - MyFrenchLife.org

In France, the system is largely financed by government health care insurance. French people will see a dedicated amount taken directly from their pay check for this, and will be covered for up to 70% of most health care costs. They can get extra coverage through a private insurer, either through their employer or on their own.

How much for a consultation?

In France, doctors or practitioners can choose to be part of the system created by the government that sets the amounts for each type of consultations. For example, in that system, a visit will cost 23 euros (about $31) for a general practitioner, 25 for a specialist (about $35). Further, you will be reimbursed up to 70% of that fee by the public health care insurance.

At reasonably priced dentists, filling a cavity will cost up to 50 euros (about $70), while a general teeth clean will be around 30 euros (about $40). Doctors can also choose to set their own prices.

Going to the doctor in the United States is much pricier. An average physician routine visit will cost $95 while filling a cavity will range from $100 to $300 depending on the dentist.

What’s next for America?

US President Barack Obama gives a thumbs up - Health Care France vs US - MyFrenchLife.org

On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the health care reform bill, known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111-148). It should help the American health care system lower its costs and provide a better service and coverage for its citizens.

We can only hope that one day the health care system in America ranks as well as France on the world stakes!

What do you think of the health care systems in the US and in France? How do you think reform in the US will change the health care system? Share your comments with us below, we’d love to hear about what you think!

Image credits:
1. TIME magazine cover, via TIME.
2. New York, on Unsplash.
3. Ministère de la Santé et des Sports, via Wikimedia.
4. Obama, via LATimes.


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  1. Avatar of Tonia Benoist
    Tonia Benoist
    4 months ago

    I’ve been reading this article and researching the information you’ve included here. I agree that France’s health care system is excellent, and that the U.S. system maybe be horribly lacking by comparison in many areas, I think it’s important to express a greater level of fairness when stating the differences.

    You said, “The United States has been ranked last in the quality of its health care system among similar countries by The Commonwealth Fund, and third last in a 2013 Bloomberg study.”

    Here’s how the “Bloomberg study” defined itself: “Bloomberg ranked countries based on the efficiency of their health-care systems.” The word used by Bloomberg is “efficiency,” not “quality.” When you look at the “efficiency score,” numbers are: France 52.3, U.S. 30.8. Also, the chart shows France’s life expectancy to be 81.7 while the U.S. is 78.6. Not a huge difference in my opinion.

    Here is the link: http://www.bloomberg.com/visual-data/best-and-worst/most-efficient-health-care-countries

    “In America, 60-65% of health care provisions come from organizations like Medicaid, an insurance program for individuals and families with low incomes and few resources.” This “60-65%” I haven’t been able to find yet. Where does this statement, or statistic, come from? Incidentally, you are correct that Medicaid is the program provided for low income families. However, did you mean to say that 60-65% of the health care provisions for the low income families (who are covered under the Medicaid program) come from Medicaid?

    I think you are in an excellent position to share your life and expériences in the U.S. with the many French citizens and visitors both coming to and living in the U.S. I believe, too, that you would be more widely appreciated by your American audience if the tone of your articles presented the information without so much ‘superiority.’ Frankly, this tone is one aspect of the current stereotypes Americans have for the French.


  2. Avatar of Jennifer Bourne
    Jennifer Bourne
    4 months ago

    Tonia,
    I was simply trying to show the facts and point out the differences in the 2 systems. Coming from France and having experiencing the French healthcare system, and seeing how it is in the US, I tend to think that the system in France, and in most of Europe, is more fair to the people and way less expensive for them, even though it has its problems and tends to bring a lot of debts to the government.
    If my tone sounded like I was presenting the French system as “superior”, it was never my intention.