Wall Street Journal

France Fights Universal Care’s High Cost
The Wall Street Journal

France claims it long ago achieved much of what today’s U.S. health-care overhaul is seeking: It covers everyone, and provides what supporters say is high-quality care. But soaring costs are pushing the system into crisis. The result: As Congress fights over whether America should be more like France, the French government is trying to borrow U.S. tactics.

In recent months, France imposed American-style « co-pays » on patients to try to throttle back prescription-drug costs and forced state hospitals to crack down on expenses. « A hospital doesn’t need to be money-losing to provide good-quality treatment, » President Nicolas Sarkozy thundered in a recent speech to doctors.

The French system’s fragile solvency shows how tough it is to provide universal coverage while controlling costs, the professed twin goals of President Barack Obama’s proposed overhaul.

The problem is that Assurance Maladie has been in the red since 1989. This year the annual shortfall is expected to reach €9.4 billion ($13.5 billion), and €15 billion in 2010, or roughly 10% of its budget.