Why Breaking Bad Couldn’t Have Been a French TV Show

PARIS – I recently stumbled upon a joke on 9gag about what Breaking Bad would have looked like if had happened in France. First of all, Breaking Bad probably never would have existed because the French still have not developed a culture of producing quality, daring TV shows. On the whole, they have been rather boring, conventional, and poorly produced, with a few rare exceptions.

But the essence of the 9gag joke was elsewhere. If a person were diagnosed with cancer in France, they would most likely be able to pay their hospital bills because Sécurité Sociale – the French social security system (Sécu for short) – covers almost all healthcare costs.

Picture Walter White walking into a hospital and handing in his green Carte Vitale – his health insurance card containing his medical files. His treatment would begin, and he would never have to worry about costs. That would be the beginning and the end of the premise of the French Breaking Bad. It is the same reason the French viewed the American debate surrounding Obamacare with complete confusion.

Some people choose to take out an extra health insurance policy for what Sécu does not cover, but for those who cannot afford to take out an additional policy, Couverture Maladie Universelle (CMU) – universal healthcare coverage – will cover virtually any possible healthcare expense. Both Sécu and CMU are funded by taxes, but the additional policies that can be taken out are often very affordable and are offered by private insurance companies. CMU is also available to legal aliens who have been in France for more than 3 months.

In spite of some spending cuts over the past few years, basic healthcare remains almost entirely free for most people living in France, and those who want more coverage can take out one of the many additional policies available, which are surprisingly cheap compared with insurance policies in the US.

After I got back from my semester abroad in New York, I got sick and enjoyed the reasonable prices of the French system. I had never taken it for granted, but it reminded me of how difficult it had been for the French exchange students to fight against paying the shockingly expensive healthcare plan Columbia University tried to impose on us.

Even though we already had our own insurance from France, which in theory could be extended internationally, no health insurance was an adequate equivalent for the standards Columbia University had to obtain a waiver.

I remember our anger when we discovered that Columbia tried to make us pay for healthcare and that, even if we got the promised waiver, we would still have to pay several hundred dollars. We struggled to find a cheap additional insurance back in France that could be accepted by Columbia and get us a waiver. We eventually found it, but were already bitter to have to pay for something we did not consider part of our budget at all.

I was lucky enough not to get sick in New York, and I only got the flu once I was home. Not all my fellow exchange students were as lucky, and they ended up paying the high cost of getting sick in the United States.

I acknowledge that the French system comes at a price, and that social systems such as universal healthcare face important challenges, especially in times of economic crisis. But I am still not convinced our society would gain anything by getting rid of this system, because I do not believe that someone should only be able to have good healthcare if they are rich enough.

Marc Goëtzmann is LJP’s French managing editor. He lives in Paris, France. The opinions expressed in this editorial are his own and are not indicative of LJP’s views.

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