Health

A Georgia Visitor’s Quick Takes On French Health Care

Casual observations, along with internet data, about health in France versus the United States.
Casual observations, along with internet data, about health in France versus the United States.
Credit Francois Mori / Associated Press file
Add to My List In My List

Spending a week in France got me to thinking about the differences between health care there versus what we have in Georgia and the United States.

So here are a few casual observations, along with internet data, about health in the country that’s our oldest ally.

Smoking: The French have a higher smoking rate than we do. And it’s often a younger crowd that’s lighting up. Secondhand smoke is a big problem for a Paris cafe visitor sitting along the sidewalks. E-cigarettes are a frequent sight, just as in the U.S.

Obesity: The French obesity rate, though rising, is significantly lower than ours — 24 percent there, more than 33 percent here. (The difference can’t be their irresistible pastries.) American fast food is spreading in France, and you see bottles of Coca-Cola everywhere.

Getting Around: Paris is a walking place: The city sidewalks fill with pedestrians, even in a drizzle. For the auto lover, Paris is far from friendly. There’s hardly any place to park, and the traffic rules are a free-for-all. Motorcycles loudly zip in and out between the bunched-up sedans. Still, crowds of walkers crossing avenues en masse seem to have the upper hand.

In addition, the subway system burrows all over Paris. The Metro, more than 100 years old, has 300 stations. Going downstairs for a train begins a plunge into a labyrinth of tunnels. Translation: Try to know where you’re going.

Health Care System: People we talked with said they were happy with the French health system, which covers all citizens. That’s not to say there are no gaps. (The majority of people have supplemental policies.) And the system costs a high load in employer and worker taxes, which people we met acknowledged.

An urgent care clinic told us that everyone who enters gets treatment, including immigrants and tourists with no passport or way to pay. A staffer there complained about people using urgent care as a convenience, rather than going to a regular doctor, and about patients without papers.

Malpractice insurance for physicians is not a problem in France because taxes pay for review boards that adjudicate complaints.

Disabilities: Paris doesn’t work very well for people with physical disabilities. Many streets are cobblestone, and accessible ramps were hard to find. Using a restaurant bathroom requires careful navigation of twisting, narrow stairs. A rural town we visited in the north of France appeared to be more accommodating to people with disabilities.

Alternative: The French use more herbal medicines, according to Google. And our experience backed that up. When my wife slipped and fell, bruising herself, the Pharmacie recommended an herbal remedy with no FDA approval or science behind it. Those herbal pills seemed to help, though, she said.

Health Stats: The internet tells us the French have a longer life expectancy than we do. Infant mortality is lower than ours. And maternity benefits appear richer. France also spends less than half as much per capita on health care as the U.S. does. But some multinational companies, under new French labor rules, are pursuing layoffs, and a young couple we met said that was likely due to the heavy tax rate (and generous benefits).

Pests: Paris, as magnificent as it is, has a rat problem. Not a good thing for health. Pedestrians are reminded not to leave their trash scattered in the streets. We didn’t see any evidence of the rodents, except for the grisly signage.

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News