This is my first time over at BookEnds, and I’m slowly slogging through T.R. Reid’s “The Healing of America” because I foolishly began reading four books over the past few weeks and I’m only close to finishing one — “The Long Goodbye,” by Raymond Chandler. Yes, cheesy private detective fiction holds my attention longer than both “American Lion,” Jon Meacham’s account of Andrew Jackson in the White House, and “Over the Edge of the World,” Laurence Bergreen’s history of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the Earth. Thankfully for the reader, I’ll save my recent troubles with historical non-fiction for another post. I’m here to talk about French health care, because, simply put, that’s last the chapter I read in “The Healing of America.”
I want a carte vitale — which means “vital card” in English, I think. It’s like a credit card but with a computerized chip that digitizes a patient’s medical record from age 15 onward. As Reid reports, “…it is the secret weapon that makes French medical care so much more efficient than Americans are used to.” French doctors and medical facilities don’t have to keep patient records in file cabinets, because it’s all on the patient’s carte vitale. What’s more, get sick in France or just go to the doctor for a check-up, you take this card with you and it not only tells the doctor all about your past treatments and illnesses, it also tells which private insurance fund covers the patient, how much they paid the doctor, how much the insurance plan pays back to the doctor, etc. It does everything, including eliminate the need for administrative workers so heavily relied upon by doctor’s offices in the United States.
The French carte vitale keeps administrative costs low. Coupled with a national health insurance system that makes it mandatory to be insured — no one is denied coverage — and some top-flight doctors, as Reid reports, the carte vitale is “a symbol of what the French have achieved in designing a health care system to treat the nation’s 61 million residents.” The card is by no means a cure-all. French politicians routinely campaign on health care reform platforms, and many now decry the the cost of their system and say doctors aren’t paid enough. But the carte vitale seems a simple yet effective way to streamline a cumbersome health care system, perhaps one of many first steps in reforming the U.S. system.