A couple weeks before leaving the United States, I had an operation to remove three wisdom teeth. It was painful and expensive – absurdly expensive actually, especially considering I actually had dental insurance.

I thought it had finally healed, when all of a sudden this week the pain returned with a vengeance, to the point where over the counter medications didn’t help whatsoever.

I talked to my mom to check up on the status of my dental care, and she informed me that since September my insurance company only covered dental in cases of emergency. Like if I got run over by a car or punched in the face until my teeth fell out.

Well that’s just super duper, thanks insurance! It’s not like my parents pay hundreds of dollars a year to keep your corporate profits soaring or anything! Glad to know you’ll have my back, though only in cases of extreme physical violence and near mutilation.

So when I woke up this morning and the right side of my jaw felt like it had been hit by a freight train, all I could think was, “Merde.” I haven’t actually been hit by a freight train, so I don’t have dental insurance. And I don’t have social security yet in France. What kind of insane money will I have to cough up to get this fixed?

Although I tried to do it all uninsured-American style and wait out the pain to see if it would just go away, it had come to the point where this was no longer a viable option. I walked to the pharmacy by my house and explained my situation, wondering if they had any over-the-counter remedy they could offer me. The woman told me I needed to go to a dentist immediately, and not to worry about the insurance. “Once you get social security set up, they will reimburse you for most of your costs,” she told me.

Wait. What?

I knew that the French had a socialized healthcare system, but never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that you could go to a dentist or a doctor without insurance and still get reimbursed for it later. It’s almost like this country, you know, cares about the general health and well-being of its citizens. It’s a foreign concept to me.

So I found a dentist in the phone book that was a block away from my apartment and I walked in without an appointment. There was only one woman the dentist was seeing, and I waited about two minutes. After she left I explained to him my situation. He asked me for my name, if I had any pre-existing conditions or medications I was taking, and if I had social security. I told him I didn’t.

“No problem,” he said. “Let’s see what’s wrong here.”

He checked out my mouth, informed me that I had an infection, did a little work on it, and that was it. He prescribed me three different medications to take throughout the week which will almost immediately alleviate the pain. And then he asked me to pay him 21€ in cash. He also handed me a form which I could give to social security to be reimbursed.

(Just as a point of comparison, the oral surgeon in the US who made a mess of my mouth had me wait for half an hour and charged me $80 just to tell me I was eligible for the surgery).

Is this what we have been conditioned to be afraid of our entire lives? Nobody in the waiting room, and speedy low-cost service? No “who’s your insurance provider again?” and “we don’t cover that” and mounds of paperwork and release forms to sign before each and every doctor’s visit. What the hell is wrong with the United States for thinking socialized medicine is the root of all evil?

I hopped over to the pharmacy where they quickly filled my prescriptions, and paid another 17€, most of which will be reimbursed once I get my social security as well.

I told my roommate about all this. “Wow 40€, that’s pretty expensive,” she told me.

Hah. If only she knew what Americans pay for health care.

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