Guadeloupe and Health Care

I took a vacation to Guadeloupe when my ex-wife was pregnant with my son. Guadeloupe is part of France, and hence subject to the French national healthcare system. As it turned out, we used it.

My wife came in contact with some rash-inducing tropical plants in what was, let us say, a sensitive area of her body. After ocean-soaking and pharmacy creams failed, we took a trip to the local hospital. The emergency room nurse directed us to the maternity ward. With my limited French, I offered that I must have been misunderstood, since her rash was external and we were not concerned with anything to do with her pregnancy. The nurse explained, "Our hospital rules are that any pregnant woman who comes in with any condition gets treated in the maternity ward -- so vite, vite, off you go."

So off we went. After a thorough questioning about the nature of the plants involved, the doctor hooked my wife up to a sonogram, to make sure the baby was ok. For my first view of my developing son, the doctor enthused, "Voilą, le petit Americain!" -- I still keep the sonogram printouts, with French symbology, in my wallet. After a complete physical, they gave us some topical anesthetic and whatnot, a follow-up appointment for the next day if needed, and we were done.

"I should pay cash here," I offered when checking out, "since we have no local address except the hotel." The nurse replied, "Oh, there's no fee." Again thinking my limited French was misunderstood, I clarified, "We're able to pay, so you don't have to let us go just because we're foreigners. Would a credit card be better?" The nurse responded, "No, there's no fee whether you're a foreigner or not. Go home and enjoy your baby. Bon soir!"

Hence my first exposure to national healthcare. Over the next several months of maternity appointments, I wondered what America would be like with the same system. I wondered quite a bit while paying for three more sonograms at $250 apiece. And I wondered if people with less ability to pay would have opted to have all three of those sonograms at all. And I wondered how many babies would have been healthier if their mothers had had a sonogram or two extra. And I wondered how it is that France manages to afford their system -- and even manages to welcome foreigners who don't contribute at all -- while America can't seem to manage anything close.

I'm still wondering.

-- Jesse Gordon, Oct. 2004