David Gauthier-Villars has a piece about France's healthcare system in the Wall Street Journal today that's worth a read. Like everyone, the French have been fighting a rearguard action against financing problems in their system for as long as I've been reading about it, but that means something a little different there than it does here:
Despite the structural differences between the U.S. and French systems, both face similar root problems: rising drug costs, aging populations and growing unemployment, albeit for slightly different reasons. In the U.S., being unemployed means you might lose your coverage; in France, it means less tax money flowing into Assurance Maladie's coffers.
....Today, Assurance Maladie covers about 88% of France's population of 65 million. The remaining 12%, mainly farmers and shop owners, get coverage through other mandatory insurance plans, some of which are heavily government-subsidized. About 90% of the population subscribes to supplemental private health-care plans.
Italics mine. Despite the story's focus on France's "financing woes" — a problem shared by every healthcare system in the world — the chart on the right tells the real story. The French spend a third less than we do per person and have a growth rate about a third lower than ours. We should be so lucky as to have woes like that. Their healthcare costs may be rising, but their tax-funded system reins in costs better than ours and still remains among the best in the world.
No system is perfect, but the French do pretty well. Service is top notch, costs are reasonable, everyone is covered, administrative costs are low, the private sector is substantial, and supplemental insurance is common for people who want more than the standard level of care. It is, ironically, a very American approach to universal care. If we had our heads screwed on straight, we could do a lot worse than to adopt it wholesale.