Thursday, November 28, 2013

Testing the System...

I am instantly awake to the words "Chris, I think something is wrong."

It's 6am and it's cold and dark out.  Jude is not feeling well.

She'd been fighting a virus, but this is different.  So, I try to clear my mind as I reach for our invaluable copy of "Bloom Where You're Planted - How to Live in France" to find the emergency numbers.

OK.  Here's a number for the cardiac hotline.  Hmmm... time to see if my early morning French is any better than my after beer French.  The kind doctor tells me to dial 15 to reach the SAMU.

A somewhat long conversation ensues where I refresh my earlier education about how to relate what hurts and where.  I speak to two people and they determine it's time to dispatch the Sapeurs Pompiers.

I get dressed, brush my teeth (to kill the Dragon Breath) and head downstairs just in time to meet three large Paramedic/Firefighter type men.

They work on Jude and after awhile say we're headed to the Pompidou hospital.  It's a public hospital. 

Jude had spoken to hear doctor just a couple days before about what to do in the event of an emergency.  She learned that her doctor preferred the semi-private Saint Joseph hospital over in the 14eme.  So she tells the man on the phone where she'd like to be taken.

We wrap up Jude as warmly as we can and head downstairs to the waiting paramedic unit.  As I climb in I see by the lights of an on-coming car that it's lightly snowing.

I sit in a seat behind Jude who's laying on a stretcher.  The unit drives pulls away from the curb and a backboard slams into me.  It's not locked down.  I grab the back of Jude's stretcher and put my foot on the backboard to keep it in place.  The siren wails as we wend our way through narrow Paris streets.  It's dark and cold outside.  We pass a long line of police vans, all with their blue oscillating lights turned on bright. This was quickly becoming Mr Toads Wild Ride!

A short time later we pull into St Joe's and they whisk Jude off to be triaged by a nurse.  Some time later, she moves into an ER room where a doctor will take a closer look at things.

Three and a half hours, two EKGs, and one rather large blood work-up later we learn what we need to learn.  In short, Jude's heart is in great condition.  She needs to see her regular doctor to review her meds and to visit a cardiologist. 

The doctor rather apologetically hands us a piece of paper that lists the services rendered.  It was as if anything having to do with money is difficult for the French.  We are free to head toward the checkout counter.

I draw a deep breath.

In the US, any time we've visited the ER, after our insurance paid whatever they'd negotiated, we were left with out of pocket expenses between 900 and 3500USD.  We experienced two non-ER visits to a hospital for one hour tests (one for Jude and one for me) with shared costs (insurance and out of pocket) exceeded 10,000USD.  The costs were consistently scary high, and we had medical coverage through my employer.

We moved to France to benefit from the number one rated medical system in the world, while, at the same time, avoiding the kinds of costs we experienced while living in the US.

I can't imagine what it would've been like had we not had insurance while living in the US.  The number one reason for people declaring bankruptcy in America is due to unpaid medical bills

As Jude says, they'll take your house and put you on the streets if you can't pay for your medical care.  It's not that way in other first world nations, but this ER experience was putting to test our ideas of how affordable proper medical care is outside the US.

I have butterflies in my stomach as we reach the check-out desk.

After several seemingly eternally long minutes, the man behind the desk hands me the RF-enabled credit card reader where I can see what the total cost of the visit is as I enter the PIN.  I can feel my own blood pressure drop through the floor as I completely relax. 

We're out less than 200Euro _before_ insurance picks up their share.

Promise me something, will you?  Promise me that we never have to return to the US.  It's cheaper to live here.  Literally.  OK?  Got it? 

Gods help us! this is exactly why we moved to France.


  1. Chris,

    Good to hear that everything is OK. A scary morning though...

    You spent about $270US at today's exchange rates. If my wife were to have a similar event (knock-wood), that trip would surely cost several thousand dollars here in the USofA, and that would be our part after "insurance" paid their share. Plus, there would be the cost of the ambulance ride as well, and then months of insurance "Explanation of Benefits" statements explaining why certain charges were not covered as each-and-every person that we happened to bump into submitted specialist charges, and then the invoices from those specialists.

    And this "insurance" costs us $1200 per month for my wife and daughter (my employer pays my insurance, but I know it's about $900/month).

    Those dang Socialists in France have made a mess of a perfectly good business model by taking the profit out of the health care system and turning it into a citizen benefit.

    You made the right choice in moving to France. Please save some seats for us!

    1. It's shocking, the cost of medical insurance in America. We're very happy to learn that to get great care doesn't need to mean feeding a long chain of greedy "controllers." Imagine, in the US, you have someone looking over everyone else's shoulder to see if something's "appropriate" or "too costly." Here, the doctor greets you at the door and you pay them directly. This, after a 20Euro!!! 30 minute!!! office visit. I can't remember the last time I had a 30 minute visit with a doc in America, let along an out of pocket visit that set me back only $20.

      We're keeping three seats open for y'all. :-)