Thursday, August 6, 2009

France Fights Universal Care's High Cost

Good article on France's universal health care system getting out of control while its population refuses anything substantial in bringing it back to black.

The French system's fragile solvency shows how tough it is to provide universal coverage while controlling costs, the professed twin goals of President Barack Obama's proposed overhaul.

.....French taxpayers fund a state health insurer, Assurance Maladie, proportionally to their income, and patients get treatment even if they can't pay for it. France spends 11% of national output on health services, compared with 17% in the U.S., and routinely outranks the U.S. in infant mortality and some other health measures.

The problem is that Assurance Maladie has been in the red since 1989. This year the annual shortfall is expected to reach €9.4 billion ($13.5 billion), and €15 billion in 2010, or roughly 10% of its budget.

France's woes provide grist to critics of Mr. Obama and the Democrats' vision of a new public health plan to compete with private health insurers. Republicans argue that tens of millions of Americans would leave their employer-provided coverage for the cheaper, public option, bankrupting the federal government.

Despite the structural differences between the U.S. and French systems, both face similar root problems: rising drug costs, aging populations and growing unemployment, albeit for slightly different reasons. In the U.S., being unemployed means you might lose your coverage; in France, it means less tax money flowing into Assurance Maladie's coffers.

France faces a major obstacle to its reforms: French people consider access to health care a societal right, and any effort to cut coverage can lead to a big fight.

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