Alex Blaze

What is this, America?

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 08, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: France, frederic mitterand, health care reform, Kevin Jennings, le pen, schools, sex tourism

I posted on Facebook yesterday that I twisted my ankle pretty hard, and am now unable to walk. And even though I work for the French government, I can't go to the doctor because immigration laws were recently changed so that people like me aren't covered for the first month of work in France, instead of from the beginning of our visas, like in previous years.

I stayed home since there's really no way of getting me across town (I usually bike to work, but even the metro is a good 10 minute walk from my apartment). But I did do the dishes and clean the kitchen this afternoon, and I insist on helping with cooking and chores, so I'm feeling like this:

I woke up early enough this morning to go to work because I thought that I'd be good enough to go. Instead I had an interesting conversation with the director of one of my schools who had no idea about the rule change.

Last week, everyone who arrived in Paris on my visa had a big meeting about what our rights, responsibilities, and taxes are. The bureaucrat who ran the meeting said that we aren't covered until November 1st, and all she could tell us was that we needed insurance from our home countries for this first month.

I have nothing against her, although she does have an office inconveniently located on the other side of town (it's a happenin' neighborhood), and I have to get there tomorrow to finish up visa paperwork. But I was left thinking, Does she know anything about health insurance in the US?

While I could definitely buy a cheap, individual policy in America, good luck getting it to cover anything. In my 20's, I've been on my parents' insurance, on France's Securité sociale, on individual Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance, and without any insurance, both in France and in the US. Affordable individual insurance in the US usually comes with big caveats, though; the BC/BS plan I had came with such a huge deductible ($10K), and only covered a percentage of expenses up to $100K.

It was basically worthless. It would not have prevented me from going bankrupt if something huge happened, it would not have given me good health care access if I needed it, and it wouldn't have helped out if something not-huge happened. It was a junk policy that probably would have been rescinded if I needed to use it for anything anyway.

But the bureaucrat didn't just say to get an individual policy. She said to get one in the US that would cover me over here in France. I've never seen a plan like that before, although I'm sure it exists. Something tells me it's out of my price range.

So, like many Americans below the age of 35, I decided that I probably wouldn't have any health problems until I got into employment-based insurance. And then on Wednesday I fell down a couple stairs in an elementary school (and gave some pre-schoolers standing around with their fingers in their noses their first English lesson...) and twisted my ankle. I hurt at first, and then I could walk and I thought I was fine so I biked home. Then, a few hours later, I found I couldn't stand up.

This morning I called into my school, and told the director that I just couldn't walk. Normally, to miss a day of work in France, you have to produce a note from a doctor. Everyone's covered, so that means you can easily get proof when you call in sick (or injured). I told her that I wouldn't be going to the doctor since I wasn't covered and I really can't afford to see a doctor when, in the worst case, she'd make me pay for an expensive treatment and tests, or, in the best case, tell me to stay off my foot for a few days and have an aspirin, which would be so worth the money.

So she's not calling my real boss to report my absence (who'd then deduct pay). Both she and my boyfriend found it completely abnormal that I wouldn't go to the doctor for something like this - it's just not done. My boyfriend, who's been following the health care debate in the US mainly because I show up at the dinner table enraged half the time by the news coming out of the US on that front, said, "It's almost like we're in America."

Indeed, I know plenty of Americans who've gotten sick and avoided the doctor because they couldn't afford to go. Most people get by just fine, some get worse and eventually go to the ER, and some people die of the flu. In the richest country in the world, we are astounded that we have the health care system of a third-world country (for some); in one of the most humanist countries in the world, they're astounded they have the health care system of America (for some).

I also read this article posted in The Advocate last night, about France's cultural minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, being accused of sex tourism; that is, going to a country where prostitution is either legal or ignored and partaking. You might remember his name for his out-spoken support of Roman Polanski, and now the neo-Nazi/Le Pen/National Front-right wants blood, so they found a part of an old semi-autobiographical book he wrote years ago and decided to create a huss-fuss around it. They're comparing Mitterrand to Polanski, but I'd compare him more to Kevin Jennings. Both are being attacked by the far right for small passages in books they wrote years ago of questionable accuracy, but the real reason they're being attacked is because they work for a government the crazy right deems to leftist.

(To be fair, I don't think Kevin Jennings did anything wrong in his "Brewster" story, but Mitterrand's story about sex tourism could be troubling if we knew more about it. But we don't, and the motivation for the attacks is the same.)

The right, no matter where they exist, has an uncanny ability to co-opt the rhetoric of the left for its own political gain. They never really cared about the well-being of gay youth, and the average right-winger probably would have called Brewster a faggot and told him to get away if he came to them with the same problems he told Jennings about, especially in 1988. And Europe's right has no problem with exploiting non-white countries in any other context. They have no values other than advancing the core of their agenda, and the core is more power and money for the rich. Everything else is just window-dressing.

And President Sarkozy, a conservative in the Reagan/Thatcher model, is chipping away as best he can at France's world-renown economic safety net, using anti-immigrant and anti-tax rhetoric to push his agenda. He's had some success, as I'm finding out right now.

America is still politically influential in many ways that Americans aren't even aware of. Too bad, because I kind of liked this country the way it was.

As for my ankle, I have a friend who's going to let me borrow the crutches she got to borrow for free when she broke her leg, and then it's the weekend. It's something. I'm American, so I don't need no stinkin' doctor to solve my medical problems.

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sorry to hear about the ankle..get well soon.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | October 8, 2009 6:51 PM

Alex, I didn't know they changed the law! That sucks.

But if you have to see a doctor, call to inquire, don't just suffer. A visit might not cost a fortune, like in America. It might actually be within your means. I know doctors were much more affordable in Dublin, even without coverage.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 9, 2009 12:15 AM

On BBC this morning Mitterrand stated that the book was not an autobiography in the strict sense, but "Advocate" calls it that. Pity, he could have just gone to Amsterdam.

Prostitution is illegal in Thailand, but is not an enforced law, nor should it be. The Thai culture permits "minor wives" or mistresses and that habit has reached into even the royal family according to Wickipedia. Now as to those under the age of 18 (what is consent in France 15?) it is much more rigorously enforced.

If I may suggest ice, elevation, compression and repeat the process over and over again.

You need Travel Insurance, short term.

A quick google showed me a $249 package, good for Europe for 31 days:


Overseas Emergency Medical Assistance unlimited
Overseas Emergency Medical & Hospital Expenses unlimited
- Dental Expenses $500
Additional Expenses $50,000
Hospital Cash Allowance $5,000
Accidental Death $25,000
Permanent Disability $25,000
Loss of Income $10,400

Of course it won't cover pre-existing conditions... but a visit to the doc in France wouldn't be over $100.

Be careful though of the fine print. You can get much cheaper policies, but they define "emergency" as "you have a sudden, unexpected illness or injury during your trip that's either life threatening or could cause serious and irreparable harm if it isn't treated" - so a broken ankle would be unlikely to be covered.

Yeah, it's not really the visit that I'm worried so much about (although I'll have to borrow the $100-some), it's the other expenses that come with it. Fortunately, I found someone to lend crutches, and I don't need painkillers.

Thanks for looking that up, though. I wonder about the deductible, since that's usually where American insurance companies go to turn policies into junk.