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Yesterday, I went to see Michael Moore’s new movie, “Sicko”, which investigates the US health care system and compares it to the British, the French and the Cuban (!) “socialized” health system. I’m telling you, I had a headache by the end of the movie.

I like Michael Moore. Sure, his movies are biased but since I’m left-wing, it doesn’t really hurt my feelings. On top of that, being an optimistic person, I do believe his investigations can make waves. But this time, I left the movie theater with mixed feelings. Since I’m familiar with both the Canadian and the French health care system, I knew Moore wasn’t telling us all the truth. And thus I started wondering about the US health system .

First of all, the good old French system which I experienced for about 18 years. You must have heard taxes were high in France, well now let me tell you what they are for : funding the “sécurité sociale”, the free healthcare system. Every French citizen has a “Carte Vitale”, a small chip card which entitle to free health care : family doctors, hospital care, prescription etc. If you’re not a French citizen or have low income (or no income), you benefit from the CMU (Universal Disease Program) and are entitled to have your health expenses reimbursed, added to a complementary health protection of 100%.

Simple English : anybody in France (citizens, immigrants – legal or not – homeless…) is entitled to free health care. What is not covered : some dental care, some private practitioners (around 3% of doctors in France) and some alternative treatment (homeopathy…). The system is pretty good although it’s expensive to run and it’s deficit is quite big.

But growing up in France, I saw all kind of doctors and my parents never worried about paying off the bills. Socialized health care is deeply enrooted in French society and no political party ever questioned it, despite many debates where the deficit was pointed out. It’s taken for granted. I had never considered health care being a luxury until I decided to move to North America.

When I first told my friends and family about my decision to move in Canada, I was basically advised to spend a day at the hospital – not to reconsider my decision to move across the Atlantic, but to get a check up. “Cause in North America, health care isn’t really good, and it’s so expensive !”.

Really ? I never though about that. So I did some researches about the Canadian health care system and I found out that Canada and France systems were actually pretty close.

In Canada, each province runs its health system under the federal Canada Health Act. Every Canadian citizen or Permanent Resident has health coverage. Dental care, drugs and optometry (in many provinces) are the main things which are not covered – very similar to France. Also, some procedures are only covered under certain circumstances, for example eye care.

The two main problems in Canada are the long waiting lists and shortage of medical practitioners, both regularly making headlines in newspapers.

The system is also a bit tougher than in France, as I learned earlier this year when I was looking for an ophthalmologist. In order to see an eye specialist, I needed to be referred by a family doctor – I don’t have one. So I looked for an optometrist, mostly for a referral. It wasn’t easy. Optometrists in Ottawa charged what seemed to me very high fees, anywhere from $80 to $100. I ended up in Quebec, across the bridge, where it was much cheaper.

The optometrist was capable enough, but stuck to the basic eye exam. When I asked for a referral, I was told my condition (amblyopia, lazy eye, I-have-a-blind-eye-and-I-don’t-give-a-damn, whatever you call it) was too common to interest a specialist and wasn’t worth a visit. Basically, don’t join the waiting list with a condition as basic as a blind eye. I left the practice a bit disappointed. In France, I’ve seen countless ophthalmologists for free. I guess Canada monitors referrals a bit more.

But from what I’ve seen in “Sicko”, I really can’t complain. I mean, in the USA, you die in the street if you don’t have health insurance. These same insurance companies spend billions on lawyers just to deny your claim so that you go bankrupt paying for expensive surgery. People are in bad shape because they can’t afford going to see doctors.

Or do they ? I mean, can anyone wise me up on the US health care system ? All I know is through Robin Cook’s novels and Michael Moore, and I’m reluctant to accept the fact people would be left out cause they can’t afford expensive health are.

Cause Michael Moore disappointed me quite a bit with his comparisons and his exaggerations.

Among other, he showed an American woman going to see a doctor in Canada with her two kids, like if it was a routine thing for her. She wasn’t a Canadian resident. But she manages to see doctors by saying she’s living common-law with a Canadian. Hello ??? Do you think Canadians are actually gonna let you get free health care without an health card just because you’re supposedly a Canadian’s common-law’s partner ? Before I had Permanent Residence in Canada, I wasn’t covered. I paid to see a family doctor in Canada, and I was married at the time.

Same goes with France. Moore shows a bunch of American living in Paris and describes all the benefits they get : free daycare center, free hospital care, someone to help you do the laundry at home… Huh ? Interesting. I really never heard of this latest service. No kidding… He also shows a wealthy French couple in Paris who declares that “health care isn’t a big expense for them”. Well, yeah. When you make 8000 euro a month, it can’t really be. Moore rides along with an SOS Médecin doctor to point out French get house visit from doctors. He omits to mention “SOS Médecins” is basically the equivalent of paramedics.

I got your point, Michael. The US health system sucks, socialized health systems are best. I agree. I wouldn’t imagine living in a country where I have to pay to be healthy again. But some example just hurt the credibility of the whole movie.

I’m curious to hear from you guys in the US. What do you think of your health system ? How do you manage ? Do you envy us ? Do you think the situation in the US should change ?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Great post. I too believe Michael Moore over-exaggerates everything! He can bring up some good points, but then ruins them with dumb comparisons and weak explanations.

    I am lucky to have a job that gives me health insurance, but so many out there don’t have this in the U.S. which is terribly sad. It’s all about profit here.

  2. Paradoxian Giant on

    Holy Hell, I don’t know how such gross misinformation, and out and out lies can be so widely perpetuated, and ACCEPTED.
    Up until the early 80s, about the time that the hippie crowd started to get into positions of influence and power, health care was a non issue. ANYONE and EVERYONE could get to a doctor or hospital and be treated for whatever conditions or ailments – and the care we got was by far the best in the world. All that stuff you saw on TV about people dying because they couldn’t afford it – bunch of LIES. That actually happens regularly NOW – with the new politically correct policies in place. It’s possible there was the isolated case here and there in the pre-politically correct days, but if it happened at all, it was very rare. If you could afford it, you paid for your Dr. and Hospital visits. If you couldn’t, you could go to any number of Free Clinics and/or Community Hospitals.
    I don’t see how socialized health care can work for any length of time. First, it obligates any person who wants to start a business – to pay for his or her employees’ health care “insurance”. With all the taxes, regulations (many and HUGE), and insurance requirements (many and HUGE), it’s no wonder that the only survivors in the business world are the giant corporations. Next, who foots the bill for socialized health care for the Entitlement Crowd – which is now in the billions of dollars a year – money trees, the lottery, Government Officials’ General Health Care Fund, the sky, the Great Gazoo??? NO, it comes from taxes. Where do taxes come from – the politicians – NO, it’s from us CITIZENS. You don’t really think that the politicians will be so kind as to include the cost of univeral health care in what they already collect in taxes – of COURSE not, they’re gonna pass those costs on to us in every way possible – the rest gets added on to the National Debt. Next, being that there is a limit on what a doctor makes – where he has no control anymore on what he can charge, where is the incentive to gain a reputation, to be better than the guy down the street, to find real cures? It’s the liberal way – everybody is the same. Well, sorry, but everybody is NOT the same, some people are better at some things than others, and some people are just better people than others. Yes, everybody is created equal, but what they BECOME – that’s the difference. The result of limited income for doctors – they (the Drs.) resort to pushing drugs and selling unnecessary services – that’s where the paycheck is. You know, the doctors have to pay back those gargantuan school loans somehow.
    So what we have here is, the doctors – who actually perform the service, and who went to school for years and years to get into their line of work, they are being robbed by the agents (the “Health Care Carriers”), and they are being told what they will get paid. Next, we have all the entertainment/advertising venues (TV, radio, newpapers, magazines, billboards, etc.) feeding us B.S. about all kinds of imaginary health conditions – resulting in America being a nation full of hypochondriacs. As if that’s not enough, we have the “Lowfat, Nonfat, 99% Fat Free, Diet, Low Carb, Sugar Free Food Farce – resulting in a bunch of Free To Be Fat people, and more people being sick (and please, spare me the phony statistics) than in the entire history of man. This is very good for the “Health Care” industry, but not good for us, the citizens.
    So, to sum up, we have agents horning in on doctors’ arena – taking a large portion of the profits, and dictating what doctors make. With limits on income for the doctors, they are motivated to push unnecessary drugs and services. We have the issue of who will pay for the entitlement crowd’s care (billions per year). We have the media telling us that it’s normal to have every health condition that can be imagined (IMAGINED). AND, we have the politically correct dictating to us how we should have our health care. There was a time when people all over the world were clamoring to come here for any major medical problems (which meant that the best doctors were rewarded for their exceptional abilities, research, and hard work), well, thanks to Socialized “Medical Care”, those days are gone, and the only “care” we get in today’s politically correct world is to have the Doc whip out his trusty old prescription pad and start scribbling.
    So, no, socialized health care does not work, in theory or in reality, just ask any honest person who lives in Europe.
    Well, there is so much more to this, I’m not going to be able to state it all in one post. I’d be happy to discuss this more at my place.

    P.S. Michael Moore is as despicable and pathetic as they make ’em – simple as that.

  3. Pingback: 10 Myths About Canada | Correr Es Mi Destino

  4. Over all great blog but not so accurate on the French Social Security system! I think you need to return to France to chatch up with the latest “sécurité sociale”-isms!

    Ok, I’m a Canadian living in France for a couple of years and I’m still trying to figure out the bloody French health system!
    First the “sécurité sociale” is NOT free! First, when you see a doctor, general practicioner, eye doctor etc…you pay him / her directly for the consultation. Then if every thing works correctly you get re-emburssed 70% of the fee and the other 30% of the fee is payed by your mutual plan. If you visit a doctor other then your “médecin traitant” then you only get re-emburssed 30% of the fee! Now no one will actually tell you this piece of information. The doctor’s in France are not legally allowed to tell you this cause they it could be considered “manipulating “ the patient. The “sécurité sociale” also will not tell you cause the don’t give a “sh***” about you. Believe me I’ve been there many times and the keep telling me it’s 70% but in reality it wasn’t the truth!

    Next, if you move to a new department in France (i.e. a new province) then you need to change everything and it’s a bloody headache! If you visit the doctor withing the firist four months of moving don’t expect the system to work! When you move to a new department you need to give them a copy of : your old work contcact, your new work contract, your 4 previous pay stubs, proof of your new address (“attestation de loyer”), your mutual plan, your banking information, your ID, your… blah, blah, blah. They they need to psychically transfer by mail your file from your old department to the new one and you need to wait 1-3 months plus the 1-2 month for your mutual health plan (extended health care coverage) to realize what happened. Count in total 5 months for the system to re-align itself.

    When I first came to France I used a Canadian mutual plan which seemed to work 5 times better then the french mutual health care plans. My Canadian mutal plan better understood the French Health care system then the two French mutual health care plans I have used. Go fugure! Go CANUCKS!

    Over all scoring Health Care Ratings out of 10 points:
    User Friendliness : Canada 10 – France 2
    Availability of doctors : Canada 5 – France 9
    Fees : Canada 10 – France 4
    Customer Service Support : Canada 10 – France 5
    Mutual Plans (Extended health care coverage) : Canada 9 – France 4
    Flexibility : Canada 9 – France 3

    Consider yourself spoiled in Canada!

    • Thank you for your input!

      This article you commented on is already 3 or 4 years old I think. I must admit I’m not really up-to-date with the French health care system, mostly because I left France in 2001. I think the rules changed a lot since then, I definitely heard French complaining about it. I don’t have the experience of moving from one département to another either, you probably know more about it than I do!

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