In Versailles when your doctor says he is sending you "chez les Franciscaines" he isn't talking about your spiritual well-being. He means that you are sick enough to warrant a trip to Emergency (Urgences) and the nearest one in my part of town is the local private (not public) hospital and its official name is L’Hôpital Privé de Versailles (The Private Hospital of Versailles). However, I have never ever heard anyone refer to it as anything other than "les Franciscaines.
St. Francis of Assisi. Under the name there are actually several sub-orders and I've never been able to get them straight (Friars Minor, Poor Clares and so on). Sean Connery played a Franciscan monk, friar William of Baskerville, in the film based on the book by Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose.
This private hospital had its origins in the 19th century. It was founded by Franciscan Sisters in 1882 and was simply called "La clinique des Franciscaines." Today it is owned by an Australian healthcare company called Ramsay Healthcare (Ramsay Santé). The Sisters (Notre Charisme de Franciscaines Missionnaires de Notre-Dame) still maintain a presence at the hospital though the Church no longer runs it.
We ended up "chez les Franciscaines" late Friday morning. My younger Frenchling had stomach pains that look an awful lot like appendicitis to our family doctor. So he scribbled off a note that began with "Chers amis" (Dear Friends), called us a taxi, and sent us off to the Emergency. And if that's not enough to make you think he's a prince among men, would you believe he makes house calls too?
We arrived around 11 AM and before we know it we had a room, my daughter had a drip in and we were off to get a scan (echographie). That and the blood test revealed nothing wrong and we were let go with a prescription for various medications that will relieve her symptoms. The medical team was incredibly efficient - the only inefficiency we encountered was entirely my fault. When we walked in I was so stressed that I didn't see the little bell I was supposed to ring to let them know we were there. Happily a nurse saw us sitting there and came over to ask.
We've been very lucky in that our family has not had much need of local emergency services in our five years here in Versailles. Last time I was in Emergency was in the U.S. I was on vacation and had severe back pain and I ended up at Swedish in Ballard in Seattle. Great service there too and it had the same happy ending - they let me go after a scan.
The biggest difference between the two experiences? The price tag. As I recall my little adventure at Swedish cost a little under 1000 USD. Let's compare that to L’Hôpital Privé:
70.00 Euros for the scan
27.09 Euros for Emergency
23.00 euros for the doctor
That is a little over 100 Euros and when we checked out I was asked to pay a grand total of....
The rest of the bill was entirely covered under French social security and we will even be getting back our ten Euros when we make a claim to our private insurance (mutuelle).
We can argue the pros and cons of how healthcare is paid for in the U.S. versus France (and frankly I think the latter's system is far superior and Obamacare isn't going to come even close to being this good) but I have a very hard time understanding how two private hospitals in two developed countries could have such radically different pricing models. To be very clear, the level of care was great in both places, the equipment was state-of-the-art in both places, the teams were professional and efficient in both places.
But for some reason it cost 10 times as much to deliver essentially the same care, the same private sector service, in the U.S.
I just have to ask the obvious question: Where is the much touted American efficiency, business sense and superiority of the private sector over the public in this picture?
Bill Maher annoyed people in the U.S. when he said "France has a better healthcare system than we do and we should steal it." I'm not entirely sure that is true if all you are comparing is quality of care. What is at issue here is quality care delivered at a reasonable price with the least amount of wasteful bureaucracy. In that respect I think the Americans have a thing or two to learn from those "damn French Socialists."