When I found out that the error was R.P.’s fault, I called Georgetown Medical School. The operator very kindly gave me R.P.’s home telephone number. I was hopeful. It seemed simple. R.P. could just say he made a boo boo on my record and Blue Cross would relent. So I called him.
“Hi, R.P.” said I. “This is Suzanne White. Remember me? New York Hospital last July?” (It was nearly October by this time.)
“Oh yes, Suzanne. I do recall. How are you?” said young R.P.
“Terrible. You wrote something in my hospital record that Blue Cross used to cancel my insurance policy.”
“Really? That’s not possible.” He said.
“It’s not only possible, R.P., but you did it. You even signed the form.” I said.
“Wow. I am really sorry.”
“It’s not enough to be sorry, R.P. You have to write a letter to Blue Cross and cc: me and New York Hospital on that letter. And you have to do it right away. I am on the verge of starting one year of chemotherapy. I need my insurance back. I haven’t got the money to pay all these bills that the hospital is sending me for everything from the operations to anesthetists to x-rays and blood tests and surgeons and medicines. I just don’t have the money.” I explained.
“What do you want me to say?” asked young R.P.
“Just write and say that you made a mistake. Tell them that I did not have cancer before. That I had never had cancer. Explain that you wrote down something that wasn’t true by mistake.”
“Oh I couldn’t do that.” R.P. told me. “It would ruin my medical career.”
“R.P.,” I said, as calmly as I could manage. “if you don’t write that letter to Blue Cross, you will be ruining my life and my children’s lives. I will lose my house and my career as an author will be over as well.”
“I am sorry Suzanne. I just can’t do that.” R.P. asserted and rang off.
I went to my very senior surgeon from Sloan-Kettering/New York Hospital to ask him to put pressure on young R.P. and make him admit his mistake.
And what did my surgeon say? “The boy can’t write a letter like that, admitting a mistake on someone’s hospital record. It would ruin his career.”
I probably should have shot the sheriff right then and there and promptly driven down to Washington and wrung the young deputy’s neck. (Thank you, Eric Clapton.) But by the time I was ready to do that, I was wrenching up my innards after my first chemotherapy treatment—for which, by the way, I didn’t have the money to pay.
Did my children’s father help me? No. But that’s another part of the story and it’s too long to go into.
Why I started this at all is to tell you that when I was so ill, and had lost my house and everything else I owned, (except the kids who were scared to death and still wonderfully helpful and kind to me during that awful time), and had, by some miracle, completed the course of chemotherapy without dying, French friends sent me three one way tickets on Air France and told me to “come home” to Paris.
We came back to Paris where we had always lived until 1976 and little by little, painfully, one step at a time, we got back on our collective feet. It took years. But we did it—together.
But hang on. The main reason I wanted you all to know this story is that when I got back to Paris in 1980, I discovered that the translation of my first book, L’Astrologie Chinoise (Chinese Astrology), was selling in France like crusty, warm morning croissants. Interestingly, that is exactly the same book that is being updated now by my Parisian publisher for re-publication in 2009. That’s why all the frenzied rewriting was going on here in my nightgown in this house this summer and why I was a shut-in in Provence.
Back to 1980. In France, a publisher is considered an employer and must pay a percentage of his author’s income to the French National Health Insurance Company. Therefore, in 1980, I was an author whose publisher paid a small share of my royalties as a health care premium to the national health insurance company. I was obliged to pay in a percentage as well. I therefore qualified for the French National Health care system for myself and the kids.
Through friends, I had found excellent doctors in Paris and was watched carefully by all of them. In 1981, they discovered I had cancer in the other breast. I was operated on for my second mastectomy at the Curie Institute in Paris. Everything (including train fare, babysitters, and a month in a plush rest facility in the south of France where I swam laps daily to recover the use of my arm) was 100 percent covered by the French Health insurance plan. Where the American insurance company had so ruthlessly tried to kill me, the French insurance company graciously saved my life.
The French Universal Single Payer Health Care Company is why I am alive today. That same universal care insurance company enabled me this very summer to spend my precious leisure hours undergoing all those scans and sonograms and blood tests and electro cardiograms and Dopplers and colonoscopies and endoscopies, etc. Thank you France. Because of your fabulous, generous, caring, loving, competent, humane, and efficient Health Care System, thirty years after having had breast cancer, I am alive to write this all down.
Wouldn’t it be comforting if everyone in America, rich and poor alike, could be unafraid to get sick or have a handicapped child or a serious paralyzing accident?
Wouldn’t it be gorgeous to not have to take your feverish baby out into the cold and then wait hours in an emergency room full of sick people to get some care?
In France, the doctors make house calls. In America, if you can’t pay the doctor, he comes and takes your house away.
Americans, do yourselves a favor. Vote for Obama.
P.S. We do not have higher taxes here in France because of universal health care. Health care has nothing to do with our taxes. Taxes are paid on earned income just as they are everywhere else. The French health system is nothing more or less than a huge insurance company run by the government. Most everything medical is covered at least 80 percent. If you don’t want to co-pay the 20 percent, you can buy an inexpensive private supplementary policy from a private insurance company. They will make up the difference. If you have one of eighteen or twenty very serious or chronic illnesses, everything is covered 100 percent until you are well again. You pay premiums according to your income. Your employer pays in too. If you have questions about how our health care system works in France, jot me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be happy to answer. sw
P.P.S Many people who read this article on my Web site wrote to me wanting to know where R.P. is today. FYI, he is a well-respected plastic surgeon in New York. Face lifts, anyone?—SW
Part 1 | Part 2