What Paris taught me about American health care
Today as the Senate is taking action on their bill, I want to tell you what I learned on my recent trip, but first I want to mention that today I heard a fantastic interview on The Story With Dick Gordon [listen through their website or by iTunes podcast] about a French woman who lived in America for many years, and became an American citizen. She was married to a doctor and and worked as an administrator in his medical practice, but even so they could not afford health insurance for themselves or their employees. So when she became seriously ill, she ended up returning to France for hospitalization and stabilization. Then she came back to America, and was able to get insurance and continued her treatment here. She sees the good in the American system but also the gaping holes in coverage that can leave people untreated, which she says just would not happen in France.
On our recent trip to Paris, I was immediately struck by how family-friendly the city seemed. Our first full day there we happened upon a massive Family Sport Fun Fair, designed to promote healthy living. It was a huge festival taking place in the field next to the Eiffel Tower. The FREE festival featured dozens of activities, from a little Circus School, to boxing lessons from the police, to Aikido demonstrations, a rock climbing wall, badminton courts, wheelchair sports for all to try, and a cool obstacle course. There was even a scuba-diving tank trucked in, which you had to see to believe.
We passed on the scuba diving lessons but did just about everything else we could fit in. I was really proud of Mojo Girl as she scaled the rock-climbing wall and careened down on the huge zip line attached to the top. Here she was in a brand-new city, and she doesn't speak French, so it took all the courage she had to try out these adventurous activities. (At the rock climbing wall we waited in line for an hour and saw about 50 kids do it ahead of us, so we helped translate the instructions for her as we all observed.)
Being in Paris and doing family activities for a whole week I really felt that there is a French esprit de corps that we are lacking here, at least in American suburbia. I don't know if I am capturing the exact term the French would use, and if anyone can direct me to a more accurate term I am all ears. But I felt like the Parisians are really used to being together, in public. Instead of being in a car, for the whole week we walked, or took the Metro subway or bus. The city is crowded and we were surrounded by lots of other people the whole time. But with the exception of one jam-packed subway ride with suitcases, it wasn't uncomfortable. People didn't feel like "strangers," they felt like people. They were generally not overtly friendly but they were not intimidating either, and any time we needed assistance we were able to find it.
So when it came to Parisian kids, I got the sense that they are used to crowds. Take a look at the playground on a Wednesday afternoon when there was no school:
That is public spirit!
We spent a lot of time on the playground (roughly one park visit for every musuem or church visit) and it really and truly struck me to the the core of my heart as I looked at the diverse, playful crowd: every one of these kids has health care. And it felt different. It didn't feel like us versus them, my group versus your group, rich versus poor. It was just KIDS at the park and they all had health care.
American kids deserve no less and we need to keep pushing our leaders as they take tentative steps in the direction of providing options that will make health care for all a possibility.
How to get there is still a matter of great debate and one piece of good news is that there is more than one way to do it! I recommend the Fresh Air interview with author T. R. Reid talking about different health care strategies around the globe, also detailed in his book The Healing of America, and the Frontline special Sick Around the World.
We HAVE to figure out a better way to provide health care in the United States and ensure that everybody has basic coverage. I am afraid that our great American Individualism has become our great flaw: we assume that what we have do it here is the BEST when it's not necessarily so. When it comes to health care and related social/family issues like maternity leave, we can no longer afford to stick out like a sore thumb as the big, rich industrialized nation that has failed to provide the basic protection that we need.
Do you have experience with health care around the world that allows you to see the American system in a different light? Please tell us about it in the comment section.