As you know, health care in France is mostly free. While private insurance exists, it essentially takes care of important but non-vital parts like glasses and dental care (and even these parts can be covered for people who really struggle financially). The rest is taken care of by social security. This costs a lot, of course, but the costs are shared by everyone, and you pay more if you earn more, not if you need more care.
Social security has been a part of the French system for over seventy years. Although we’ve come to take it for granted, there are constant debates concening its costs. Many right-wing politicians would love to transfer most of the burden to private insurances, regardless of how poorly such systems perform in other countries. Let that sink in for a second: I have never, ever heard of a French person who died or underwent a serious illness without treatment because they couldn’t afford it. We don’t even have to plan for that possibility. It simply doesn’t exist. That’s perhaps why some people in France can sometimes get flippant when referring to our social security system: yes, it costs a lot, and yes, if you’re generally in good health, you would probably pay less in the long run if you chose to get minimal coverage from private insurances. Right-wing politicians don’t have to care at all: most of them are so wealthy they could afford any kind of insurance. If social security disappeared, their lives wouldn’t change a bit.
Because of these debates, I think it’s great to pause evey now and then, and appreciate how much social security has changed our lives. A small event in our household has made me think about that a lot lately.
Our cat Natacha has been ill for a couple of months. She’s lost a third of her weight due to intestine and liver problems. Apparently it’s not life-threatening although she’s visibly exhausted, but since cats can’t talk, we’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what was wrong. And money. She’s had blood samples taken, ultrasound exams, plenty of medication along with special food. And it’s not over, so we’re going to buy more medication, perhaps do some additional exams in case there’s something we missed. We’re worried, of course, but at least so far we can afford it. We may have to skip a couple of evenings out in months to come, but our finances can cover it. We won’t give up on her.
Now these are serious costs, but they’re quite exceptional for a cat. Cats are sturdier than humans, after all. For us… it’s another story. In the past couple of years, I’ve needed X-ray and MRI scans, countless physiotherapy sessions, half a dozen visits to the doctor’s office and two paid weeks of medical leave, just because of persistent knee pains. I’ve also been vaccinated against the flu and taken medication for minor illnesses, and I’ve had my blood iron checked. All this for, I think, a little under sixty euros. One-fifth of what we’ve had to pay so far for Natacha, because we’re lucky enough to live in a country where health care is covered by public funds.
Now that presidential elections are looming, I think it’s more important than ever to stop taking things for granted. It’s all well and good to talk about economic growth and public deficits, but how dearly are we willing to pay for a slight improvement in our economy? I can barely think about what it would be like to let go of a beloved pet just because we wouldn’t be able to afford the vet. Having to face the same dilemma for a family member? I don’t even know how there can be a public debate about this. We’re civilised people. Whatever views we hold on our economic and social system, we can’t let people die for a bunch of figures.