The Economist reports:
ON A recent trip to America, Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, could not resist the temptation to needle his hosts. Just before the visit his American counterpart, Barack Obama, had secured Congressional approval of a plan for a dramatic expansion of the country’s health-insurance market. Observing that America is the only wealthy country to lack universal health coverage, Mr Sarkozy sniffed: “Welcome to the club of states who don’t turn their back on the sick and the poor.”
Look here, Monsieur Grenouille Président. America does offer treatment to the sick and the poor through hospital emergency rooms. (And despite the new law, that’s where their treatment is likely to remain.) If you want to see what it looks like to turn your back on the sick and the poor, I suggest looking a bit closer to home:
The death toll in France from August’s blistering heat wave has reached nearly 15,000, according to a government-commissioned report released Thursday, surpassing a prior tally by more than 3,000. . .
The bulk of the victims — many of them elderly — died during the height of the heat wave, which brought suffocating temperatures of up to 104 degrees in a country where air conditioning is rare. Others apparently were greatly weakened during the peak temperatures but did not die until days later.
The new estimate comes a day after the French Parliament released a harshly worded report blaming the deaths on a complex health system, widespread failure among agencies and health services to coordinate efforts, and chronically insufficient care for the elderly. . .
The heat wave swept across much of Europe, but the death toll was far higher in France than in any other country.
How did it happen? Neglect:
The immediate flush of media attention last week centered on the sexier political debate over the slow and initially dismissive reaction by the conservative government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, much of which was on holiday as the death toll mounted. Raffarin has refused to accept any blame, while President Jacques Chirac was bizarrely silent — and on vacation in Canada — for the duration of the heat wave. When he finally addressed the crisis in televised remarks last Thursday, Chirac avoided finger pointing, instead emphasizing that “family solidarity [and] respect for the aged and handicapped” are necessary to avoid future tragedies. Doctors and health experts, the people no one listened to during the heat wave, are telling a larger, darker story. The heat wave only made visible, they say, a crisis that had been under way for years: a chronically under-funded and understaffed elder care system combined with a national habit of shutting senior citizens out of sight and mind. . .
The majority of this summer’s victims were found dead in homes they occupied alone — or were brought to emergency rooms too dehydrated and weak to be saved. The August vacation period had lowered the staffing levels of rescue squads and hospitals. And well before that, many elderly people had already become cut off from regular human contact.
I hope we’re not joining Mr. Sarkozy’s club. I fear we are.