The French don't get fat -- or great medical treatment
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
We had to chuckle when two letter writers offered France as a political model for Colorado. The American Revolution was a brilliant success; the French Revolution was a bloody disaster. Currently in the U.S. the unemployment rate is below 5 percent; in France it exceeds 10 percent. Yet somehow we're supposed to believe that French medical policy is the ideal.
Duane Carr writes, "In France, life expectancy is 79.2, while in the US it is 77.1." P. Ross claims "that the countries that rank the highest [in health care and longevity] are the ones with a national health program, top of the list is France." Their letters were published on April 18. The CIA's World Factbook estimates that, in 2007, life expectancy in France is 80.6, while it is 78 in the U.S. (The top of the life-expectancy list is Andorra.)
But Carr and Ross's argument that France's heavily-controlled medical system is better because the French live longer is a non sequitur. Actually, the French live longer despite having worse access to quality medical services. If you get sick, you're better off in America.
For example, people who get breast cancer are considerably more likely to die in France, according to statistics reviewed by Dr. David Gratzer in his book, The Cure. The percent of those who die of the disease out of those diagnosed is around 25 percent in the U.S. and around 35 percent in France. For prostate cancer, France's "mortality ratio" is more than double that of the U.S.
Gratzer summarizes, "Cancer patients in the United States have markedly higher survival rates than their European counterparts."
For more statistics about Europe, along with sensible ideas to improve our own medical policies, see the proposal from Brian T. Schwartz, Ph.D., to the Commission for Healthcare Reform, "FAIR: Free-markets, Affordability, & Individual Rights," linked at Schwartz's WhoOwnsYou.org. (Though Club 20's Reeves Brown complained in a letter that we offered no "constructive alternative" to his own club's terrible proposal, in fact we mentioned Schwartz's alternative previously.)
According to a 2006 report from the Commonwealth Fund, the U.S. has around three times as many Magnetic Resonance Imaging Units per capita as France does. The U.S. also has more Computer Tomography Scanners.
Still, Gratzer notes that "the French run circles around the English -- decision making is more decentralized... modest user fees are charged, cutting down on some frivolous expenses; care is timely."
However, Gratzer also quotes a French journalist on his country's system: "Mismanagement and waste compound the burden of the health care system."
A 2004 article from the Christian Science Monitor quotes one French Health Minister: "Our health system has gone mad. Profound reforms are urgent." The article continues, "The French public health insurance scheme is heading for a $15.5 billion deficit this year, threatening to bankrupt the system."
A January, 2007, paper from Belgium's Institut Economique Molinari states, "Faced with the impossibility of financing all the health needs felt by the French population, successive governments have settled down to contain healthcare expenditures, the result being a growing bureaucratization of the health system... France faces the risk of joining the rank of the group of countries where the existence of rationing of healthcare and waiting lists raises serious problems as regards the access to care by those who need it."
To those who wish to subject American medicine to more government controls, France is the current winner of their game of musical chairs. First the model was England, until stories about rationing, waiting lines, and needless deaths became widespread. The same fate met Canada. Now the model is France.
Yet the whole point of America was to reject the government controls that plague Europe. The "model" to which we aspire is individual rights, the wellspring of all of America's virtues and advances. But Reeves Brown of Club 20 does not consider liberty to be a "constructive alternative."
But why, then, do the French live longer than we do, on average? A recent AP story notes that "just slightly more than 9 percent of the 63.4 million citizens are obese and fewer than a third are overweight, according to government figures. In the United States, by comparison, one-third of adults are obese, about two-thirds are overweight."
In a 2003 release from the University of Pennsylvania, psychology professor Paul Rozin describes a study he worked on: "While the French eat more fat than Americans, they probably eat slightly fewer calories, which when compounded over years can amount to substantial differences in weight."
In other words, the French eat less than Americans do, and thus they maintain a healthier weight. Other possible health factors include exercise, consumption of red wine, and a better proportion of "good" (unsaturated) fat. So there may be a few things Americans can learn from the French, after all. But medical policy is not among them.