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Rethinking Arguments against Universal Healthcare

When I was preparing to move to France, my brother expressed concerns that I might not be able to get adequate medical care. Like other Americans, he and I had heard stories about how terrible socialized medicine is.

With mostly bravado (because I didn’t know otherwise), I assured him I’d be fine.

Sometimes, a person has to be willing to change their point of view. In my case, I no longer argue that free-enterprise medicine is best. I now argue for universal healthcare. I’ve made the shift because of my experience in France.

Arguments against Universal Healthcare

One major reason cited by opponents of socialized medicine or universal healthcare is that “the science of medicine under free enterprise in the United States has given us the best medi­cal service in the world’s history.” The second claim is that medical care in the US has “prolonged life in a phenomenal manner.” The third argument is that “our medical supplies and services are infinitely superior to those in any other country.”

My Experience in France

Until I moved out of the United States, I did not challenge these assumptions. But after a couple of years in France, where I’ve had considerable experience with medical care providers and prescription drugs, I’d beg to differ with those who make these arguments.

I’ve had lots of experience with France’s healthcare system

(Photo by Isabella Fischer on Unsplash)

My medical history here in France includes a dozen or more infections, a broken foot bone, three trips to the emergency department, five visits to specialists, dozens of laboratory tests, and routine purchases of prescription drugs. Throughout my experiences, I have been impressed with the quality and efficiency of the care.

Moreover, the cost of medical care and prescription drugs is a fraction of what I would pay in the United States. Consequently, out of curiosity, I examined my former arguments against universal healthcare.

Argument #1: Best Medical Care in the World

Ranking medical systems is complicated, but one highly respected study annually assesses eleven high-income countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The Commonwealth Fund, a US-based foundation promoting improved healthcare, ranks the countries based on accessibility, administrative procedures and equity, and the quality of healthcare outcomes.

In 2021, the United States came in last—as it mostly has for the past six years. In contrast, France was consistently rated higher than the United States.

Argument #2: Greater Life Expectancy

We could dismiss the foundation’s conclusion by arguing that the researchers were biased. Then what about longevity? In a worldwide ranking of longevity, the United States came in 47th out of 201 countries. In comparison, France came in significantly higher at number 16.

Moreover, life expectancy continues to decline in the United States even as it has rebounded after the peak of COVID-19 elsewhere in the world.

Argument #3: Superior Medical Supplies and Drugs

Ironically, most of the drugs prescribed in the United States are manufactured outside the country. Only 10 percent are manufactured within the United States. About half come from India, and the remainder are from Europe and China.

Most drugs taken by Americans are manufactured overseas

(Photo by freestocks on Unsplash)

Most impressive to me as a resident of France is the low cost of medical care. A visit to a specialist is billed at $50 to $100; a regular doctor’s appointment costs $25. In the United States, six prescription drugs I routinely took cost about $150 for a two-week supply; here, the cost of equivalent drugs is $30.


Who Pays What?


As an immigrant, I pay the list price for my medical care. Even so, my cost is minimal, and I have medical insurance in the United States that offsets any significant expenses.


But for French citizens, healthcare is mostly free. As a result, individuals don’t have to worry about being hit by a massive expense for an unexpected surgery or a prolonged illness.


Two-thirds of all bankruptcies in the United States are triggered by a significant illness—due to either the cost of care or the loss of employment because of the illness. French citizens do not have to worry about this fate.


What About Wait Times? Quality of Care?


During my two years of experience using the French medical care system, I’ve found the wait times are about the same as those in the United States. But in France, laboratory tests and results are scheduled and processed much faster.


Moreover, I’ve found the quality of care to be outstanding, comparable to or better than the excellent care I received in the United States.


Over the last two years, I’ve met thoughtful, considerate, genuinely concerned physicians and medical staff. They’ve apparently chosen their profession not to get rich but out of a desire to be part of a healing community.


Universal Healthcare Is Not Perfect


Are there problems with France’s universal healthcare? I’m sure there are. Physicians and medical personnel recently threatened a strike that was averted by an overdue increase in pay. And no doubt, many serious problems are invisible to patients like me but worrisome to those in the profession.


But overall, even though I truly loved my physicians in the United States, I am even happier with the care I’ve received in France.


I wonder if my brother will read this blog post!


(Cover photo by Getty Images under the Unsplash+ License)