In this article, we assess the recent performance of the French state at containing costs in health care using political science concepts such as path dependency and incentives, which are central to an economic approach. The article focuses on institutional capacities and cultural immobilism and attempts to lay bare the tensions at play in seizing (or not) opportunities for structural change. In particular, we attempt to delineate what constitutes real change in this policy arena (big reforms versus the accumulation of many small policy movements) and to understand the variables at play in the coming together of conjunctures that provide for the big, as well as the underlying structures that allow the accumulation of the small. Except in cases of favorable conjuncture, the analysis bodes very ill for nonincremental reform and, indeed, for significant change over the long term.

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