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A world without health care advertising

Posted by John McDonough  August 6, 2012 07:55 PM

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Just got back from a few weeks vacation in France, mostly Paris. Oui, oui, lucky me!

Carte Vitale.JPGDid some talking about with folks about the French health system. As much as Mitt Romney loves the top-down, individual mandate-driven, Israeli health care system, I'm a fan of the French system. Every citizen and legal resident gets a "Carte Vitale" which is their gateway to services. Compared with the US, health spending per person is incredibly low. Here's the World Bank data 2007-10 in US dollars:

France: $4691
United States: $8362

For every dollar we spend on medical care in the US, France spends 56 cents. They cover all their people. And the French like their system far more than we like ours, documented by the ever-excellent Commonwealth Fund. Oui, oui, for sure.

What impressed me more was what I saw (or didn't see) on the street. A few random observations.

Wow, it seems that a lot of French still smoke cigarettes. The prevalence estimates vary considerably from one survey to the next -- though in Paris, smoking feels (and smells) ubiquitous. Those lovely sidewalk cafes -- hard to fine one where you can avoid sitting next to a smoker.

A lot fewer signs of obesity and overweight among the populace. Some people tell me that the social/cultural pressures to stay thin are strong, and that more than a few young women smoke to keep their weight down.

Pick your poison, I guess.

Here is something I did NOT see, anywhere -- health care advertising. No ads from drug companies, hospitals, physician groups, insurance companies, nada. No stock photos of smiling happy faces. Not in newspapers, not on TV, not in the fabulous Paris Metro. Nowhere, nothing.


I asked a few French natives if they felt deprived or ignored or otherwise sad because they don't get to enjoy the drug, medical equipment, hospital, physician group, or health insurance advertising that we Americans experience multiple times every day.  

Did not find a taker who would fess up to their sense of loss. 

Confession -- I didn't miss it either.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

John E. McDonough is a professor of practice at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is the author of the book “Inside National Health Reform”, published in 2011 by More »


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