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Bill Boggess/Local Voices: A compassionate health-care system




I went to the doctor the other day and it got me thinking about the French medical plan. Why the French plan? Because I've been living in France for 28 years, and enjoying the benefits of their medical system.  


I know a few things about doctors. My dad was an eye, ear, nose and throat doctor, and my brother is a doctor as well. And I sort-of had a medical education too, not at medical school, but as a boy riding in the car with my dad after a fishing or boating trip listening to reel-to-reel and cassette tapes of medical procedures on how to take out tonsils, how to diagnose cancer while doing an eye exam and stuff like that.  


So here's my take on the French medical plan. First of all, I really like it because it is fair to everyone. It is a universal plan; everybody is covered, whether they are employed or not. Everyone with a job participates in paying for it, and everyone (with or without a job!) benefits. It is connected to their retirement system. A Frenchman pays 20 percent of his gross earnings to the Social Security system, and this pays for his medical care and for his retirement. There are other sources of funding as well.  


I'm not sure how this compares to the cost of medical care and retirement in the USA. In any case, I really like the French medical system because no one is left out.  


Poor women get prenatal care for their babies; old people get flu vaccinations; handicapped people, people with diabetes get lifetime care...  


I also like the plan because it strongly encourages preventive medicine, which improves one's quality of life. Every couple of years I get invited to come in to a clinic and have a full physical exam: heart, eyes, ears, blood, etc. And it's free. I asked about that, and they told me that paying for regular exams is cheaper for the health program in the long run than not having them. Makes sense to me. 


Coming from the viewpoint of a pastor (I am a church-starter over here), I like the health plan here because it is compassionate. I see in the gospels that Jesus cared deeply about the poor.  


I bet He'd be upset that in the middle of the Bible Belt a large percentage of Mississippians don't have insurance and therefore have a hard time having access to regular medical care. The French plan pays 70 percent of most medical expenses, a larger percentage for surgeries, pregnancies and childbirth, and other things, and 100 percent of expenses for some long-term illnesses such as cancer and diabetes. Many French have extra medical insurance that reimburses the remaining costs. 


Another thing I like about the French plan is that medical care is dispensed by the most appropriate doctor. Here is how it works: When I need a vaccination, or if am sick, etc. I go to my regular doctor (whom I have chosen), a generalist who is my "gatekeeper" doctor. He treats me for most illnesses, and if necessary he refers me to a specialist. So, the primary care physician takes care of normal needs. The specialist takes care of special medical needs. And the emergency room staff gets to take care of emergencies.  


Nobody goes to the emergency room because they can't pay for primary care. 


So how is the doctor paid? Well, for each consultation he charges as a minimum the set amount by the medical/social security system. He may charge the patient more, but he will be reimbursed only that set amount. Any extra the doctor charges must be paid by the patient. Now how is it that the French social security system gets to set prices? (That's not capitalistic!) Well, it is logical under the system of education in France. In the USA, the state and local governments provide free education from primary school through high school, and some states may even pay for kindergarten.  


But here in France, the French government provides free education from nursery school all the way through college, even through graduate school.  


So if you are a French doctor, your education was free and you do not have huge school loans to repay after college! Since the government financed the doctor's education, they feel like they have the right to regulate the amount of reimbursement for their services. 


We all know that life is not fair. If you have an accident and lose your health, you more than likely are not going to the earning power of another person who enjoys good health. If you inherit a debilitating disease, you will probably spend your life savings just trying to survive. Some people have great jobs with great benefits, and some people get sick or are handicapped before they had that great job that provided that wonderful medical insurance. 


Well, the French certainly know that life isn't fair. But they have compassion for each other and they desire to share the unfair things of life, the heavy burdens. (Hey, that's in the Bible!) They call it "solidarit√©." This core value in the French culture makes them willing to personally do without in order to provide health insurance for everyone.  


Columbus native Bill Boggess and his wife Bobbie have been Baptist missionaries in France for 28 years. His email address is [email protected]



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