Saturday, April 4, 2009

I'm Apte (with an e)

Because my health insurance is provided by the government, they have a vested interest in keeping me healthy. As such, they require me to pay them a visit every 6 months or so for a check up. I was summoned last week.

In France the average person "costs" about half of what the average American "costs" for healthcare. In the US these costs are split pretty evenly between the government (medicare, medicaid) and private payments (like health insurance and personal out of pocket expenses). In France the government pays for about 80% of it. Despite spending less than half of what the US spends of health care, people in France somehow live longer and healthier. Lifestyle certainly has a lot to do with this, but I also think that the french approach to healthcare is better than the US approach.

You often hear that prevention is better than reaction. It is much cheaper to keep people healthy than to wait until they become unhealthy and then try to fix them. This seems like common sense to most people, but despite how obvious this seems, I have never had a health care plan in the US that required, or incentivized in any way, regular doctor's visits and checkups. I am just as busy and lazy as the next American, so of course I never took my own initiative and scheduled my own regular checkups, and I cannot even remember the last time I went to a doctor for a non-emergency.

In France these regular checkups are required. And they are free. They check your eyes, make you pee in a cup, check your blood pressure, check your weight, ask about your diet, your work, any aches or pains, etc. Pretty routine and the goal is just to catch the bad things before they become too bad. As long as everything is good, they give you a piece of paper that says Apte and let you go on your way. If things are bad, you get something else, and are maybe required to visit other doctors or prevented from returning to work (with full pay, of course :-). I got an apte, and a big pat on the back for getting my blood pressure down from the first visit I had when I first got to France. The only negative was that I cannot remember the last time I had a round of vaccinations (polio, tetanus, diphtheria), so the doc gave me an address to get my vaccinations updated. Also free, of course.

I wonder what impact something like this would have on the average healthiness of the US. If these regular checkups detect problems, they send you to a specialist for consultation. If the doc thinks you might be carrying a few extra pounds, they send you to a nutritionist to help you get your diet right. If you are suffering from any work related illnesses, they can give you the time off to recoup.

I know I certainly tend to ignore problems until they become too difficult to ignore, so hopefully this will keep me informed on my current health.

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