France's Health Care System Punishes Patients to Cut Costs

Ah, the last bastion of “see, socialized medicine works“:

When Laure Cuccarolo went into early labor on a recent Sunday night in a village in southern France, her only choice was to ask the local fire brigade to whisk her to a hospital 30 miles away. A closer one had been shuttered by cost cuts in France’s universal health system.

Ms. Cuccarolo’s little girl was born in a firetruck.

France claims it long ago achieved much of what today’s U.S. health-care overhaul is seeking: It covers everyone, and provides what supporters say is high-quality care. But soaring costs are pushing the system into crisis. The result: As Congress fights over whether America should be more like France, the French government is trying to borrow U.S. tactics.

In recent months, France imposed American-style “co-pays” on patients to try to throttle back prescription-drug costs and forced state hospitals to crack down on expenses. “A hospital doesn’t need to be money-losing to provide good-quality treatment,” President Nicolas Sarkozy thundered in a recent speech to doctors.

It doesn’t work. It can’t work. Its stupid to think it could possibly work. We’re dealing with people here, for crying out loud. If you make it less than real cost to use a thing, then it will be used more than it should be – and then you’re stuck either charging more, cutting services or trying to do both. “Do both” is what France seems to have opted for (while the UK and Canada seem to have come down hard on the side of cutting services).

What should health insurance be? Coverage for chronic and/or catastrophic injury or illness, with various provisions for pregnancy. A trip to the doctor should cost $50. If it costs that much, people will only go when they need to – and they’ll go without any worry because if it starts to become more costly than a regular office visit plus, perhaps, a few regular tests and minor procedures, then the insurance is going to kick in and take care of it. We’ve been mind-bogglingly stupid over this thing for 40 years.

Fortunately, it looks like ObamaCare will drive the final nail in the socialized medicine coffin. After that, we might be able to start a rational debate about what we want insurance to be for.