28 November 2012
Health Care Policy in the United States and France:
Common Ideals, Diverging Approach
Health care policy is one of the foremost issues of controversy in most modern societies across the globe today. The debate centers on the government’s role in providing health services to its citizens. No two countries in the world have a system in which their governments play the exact same part in regulating health care, portraying the vast number of opinions and views on the issue. France and the United States exemplify a pair of countries that differ in their approaches to health care policy. Considering their approaches, France and the U.S. differ most with respect to the degree of health care costs that are socialized and the role played by the state in regulating health services. However, the health care systems in place in these two countries, despite the prevailing American inclination toward European health care, share many common characteristics based on the common ideals of individual rights and popular sovereignty. There are also problems shared by the health care systems of these two countries, namely, rising costs. The analysis concludes that French policy is overall more efficient than that of the U.S. and that this is primarily due to differences in culture and history.
The institution of health care has been widely disputed in the political arena of every developed nation throughout history. The debate over the role of the state in the lives of individual citizens of a nation is as old as the idea of the state itself and applies to the institution of health care due to its nature: that health care is typically viewed as a moral issue. Health care, specifically, refers to “the prevention, treatment, and management of illness and the preservation of mental and physical well-being through the services offered by the medical and allied health professions.” (4) On opposite ends of the political spectrum lay two differing opinions as to how it should be made available. On one hand are those that view access to health care as an inalienable right: the right to life, and that it shares this characteristic with rights such as freedom of speech and should be protected by the government. Others take the view that health care should be left completely to markets and that the government has little or no place in its regulation and they defend their view by appealing to our right of individual freedom. The scope of government regulation of health services is disputed on a broad scale ranging from the advocation of complete government control of the health care sector to an almost completely hands-off policy in which it is left entirely to actors in the free market to provide these services. Despite the wide range of views, health care has been socialized, to a greater or lesser extent, in all modern, industrialized societies for a long time. What remains undecided, however, is the proper degree of socialization. The differing degrees of socialization in health care policy across nations are reflected, to an extent, in the divergent approaches of the United States and France. Americans often generally view health care in European countries as a nationalized industry. However, this assertion is false. While some countries do have completely nationalized health care systems, it is the case that all modern health care systems are socialized to some extent, and fortunately so. (3) In truth, very few seriously ill patients or accident victims would be able to pay for the actual costs of the medical services that they require. The reality is that the health care systems in the U.S. and France have been surprisingly similar throughout history and continue to share many similarities. In general, countries have developed two basic ways of socializing the cost of health care to provide health security for their citizens. One way is the creation of a nationalized health service, where funding for