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US: learn from French healthcare

Veronica De La Cruz visited France to see what lessons America could learn

Former CNN news anchor and healthcare campaigner Veronica De La Cruz visited France to see what lessons America could learn as it passes its new health bill

FORMER CNN news anchor Veronica De La Cruz says America has a lot to learn from France’s health system.

The American TV journalist and campaigner spoke to Connexion while in Paris investigating what makes France’s healthcare – ranked number one by the World Health Organisation – so good.

She plans to flag up ways in which it contrasts with the American system, whose failings she has been highlighting since her brother Eric died while waiting years for a heart transplant. He could not get insurance due to a pre-existing condition – despite massive fundraising efforts by De La Cruz, including mobilising support from rock group Nine Inch Nails. The fact that Eric dreamed of visiting France and loved the film Amélie was on of the spurs for Ms De La Cruz’s trip.

She believes France has a fairer approach, while American healthcare focuses on purely commercial values. She has had first hand experience of French healthcare after her taxi hit a scooter and she hit her head. “I went to hospital. I’m not even in the system, but they saw me right away and did tests. They said it would be €22 and they would send the bill to my address in New York. In America you can’t even walk in the door without an insurance card.

“Or, if you don’t have one, they’ll bill you $10,000 for what I had; they will give you a lot of tests you don’t need because they make money on each. There is no cost control.”

Unlike the French system, where most people are state-insured, in America there are only limited forms of state help, mainly for those on very low-incomes or OAPs. For most people the only option is a private policy, though many are left with none at all.

President Barack Obama’s healthcare bill is aimed at making the system fairer by, among other things, banning the practice of dropping customers when they develop new, serious illnesses and requiring companies to take those with pre-existing conditions.

Ms De La Cruz said: “Eric had a heart condition so he was cut out of the system. We raised a million dollars for his surgery, but he was still locked out because the clinic said he needed insurance to cover anti-rejection drugs. I have celebrity connections, I know how the system works but I still couldn’t save Eric’s life.”

Eric died on July 4, 2009 at the age of 27 after his heart condition worsened.

Ms De La Cruz said she thought France did not have the same ethos that “money makes the world go round.”

“The fact that in the US, healthcare is for profit is inhumane. I would be on the phone to the clinic saying ‘we have two huge bands on the road for us, we are raising $170,000 a day - and you still won’t take him?’”

She said she was struck by how in the French regional elections the candidates’ campaigns were government-funded, whereas she said there was a lot of funding is from business in America.

She says this must make French politicians more impartial when it comes to voting on healthcare policies.

She believes Obama’s reforms will help 30 million more Americans to access healthcare, which will become a legal requirement. However the fact the system would still rely heavily on private policies was disappointing, she said.

“When he was campaigning on healthcare the president said ‘look at France: you can pick up the phone and call a doctor at 3.00, they will come to your home and you don’t pay for it. They pay more in taxes, but they have universal healthcare, and it works.’ I feel deflated by what’s happening.”

Ms De La Cruz said the solution was universal (state) healthcare, from taxes, like in France. “I have talked to doctors, patients, politicians here – they say they love their healthcare and couldn’t imagine travesties like my brother’s case. French politicians admit there are problems with fraud and that they are facing budgeting problems - it’s not perfect, but they couldn’t imagine taking healthcare away.”

Ms De La Cruz said there was a cultural difference - the French sought freedom “through” their government, Americans sought freedom “from” theirs. “They believe it’s the American way that you make it on your own and they think if you have universal healthcare no one will want to be a doctor because they will be badly paid - but I’ve not spoken to French doctors who struggle to make ends meet.

“Some Americans say ‘we don’t want to become a socialist country’ but if they don’t want any socialist policies then let’s get rid of state schools as well. Or they say ‘healthcare will be rationed,’ but it already is – through insurance firms.”

She added: “America has a bad record on healthcare, life expectancy and infant mortality. We need to realise there are other people doing things right. I wish people could come here and see the world through my eyes. Some people think back to Bush and Chirac and ‘Freedom Fries,’ but I do think times are changing, with a Democrat in office who is fairly neutral and is well-liked by the rest of the world; and some Americans are very educated and open-minded and think France’s health system is an accomplishment.

“The French find it hard to understand the problem so I say give me your carte vitale, now work out how you are going to pay for your healthcare’ – that’s what it’s like in America.”

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