Michael Moore is a big star over here in Germany -- translations of his books top the best-seller lists, and Farhenheit 9/11 did land-office business. (As you might imagine, I have veeerrry mixed feelings about this.) His new mocku-rocku-documentary on the U.S. heathcare system, Sicko, will surely be a hit as well.
The opening scene of the movie, according to Jonathan Cohn's review "portrays...Rick, who accidentally sawed off the tops of two fingers while working at home. With no insurance to pay the bill and limited funds at his disposal, he has to choose whether to have the hospital reattach his middle finger for $60,000 or his ring finger for $12,000. (He chooses the ring finger.)." Cohn -- who writes books about the healthcare system -- gives the new flick a cautiously positive review: "Sicko got a lot of the little things wrong. But it got most of the big things right."
Moore also compares the U.S. healthcare system, which leaves 45 million people uninsured, with the systems in Cuba, Canada, Britain, and France. The first three choices are more than questionable, given the problems these systems face and the extremely loud bitching emerging especially from Britain. The comparison to France, though, is right on-target:
As Paul Dutton explains in a new book called Differential Diagnoses, the French prize individual liberty, so they created an insurance system that, today, allows free choice of doctor and offers highly advanced medical care to those who need it. One of this system's most appealing features, which Moore showcases, is the availability of 24-hour house-call service via a company called SOS Médecins. (Moore travels along with one of the company's doctors as he rides around Paris one night, taking dispatch calls like a taxi driver and then administering at-home medical care to a young man with some kind of stomach problem.)
All of this does cost money, naturally, and Moore acknowledges what many assume is the French system's big drawback: its high taxes. But Moore also provides the same answer that any good policy wonk (including yours truly) would: They pay more in taxes but less in private insurance. In fact, the French system, like every other one in the rest of the developed world, costs less than ours overall.
The French like their system a lot--more than the citizens of any other country, including the United States, if you believe the opinion polls. The World Health Organization likes it a lot, too: It has ranked France's system tops in the world.
I am satisfied with the German healthcare system, which also does well in international rankings. I'm currently covered by the national healthcare scheme. You can choose which doctor you'd like to visit, you don't have to wait for an appointment, and prescription drugs are quite cheap. Granted, I haven't had a major medical emergency over here (thank G-d), but I have confidence that I'd get good care if I did.
Yes, you can find Germans bitching about it, but then again, Germans bitch about everything.* Any health-care system will have shortcomings. For instance, the U.S. healthcare system appears to have a big problem with getting the right prescription drugs to people in the right doses. Germany, for its part, has a physician brain-drain problem (G).
However, one of these countries provides solid medical care to basically everybody, and the other doesn't. That, to me, is a difference worth erasing.
* Yes, I know this is an unfair generalization. However, as generalizations go, it is excruciatingly accurate. Just trust me on this one.