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Sicko(s)

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 ?

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