Readers of this blog who are thinking of moving to France often send me questions, and one of the main ones is: how’s the health care in France? What to do about medical insurance?
I decided to write about French health care this week, and my decision was prompted by reading the Time Magazine cover story of last week: Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us.
I read this amazing piece of old-fashioned investigative journalism, about WHY a cancer drug in the states costs the pharmaceutical company $300, is sold to the hospital for $3000, and is billed to the patient for $13,000. Why you may be charged $77 for a box of gauze pads that you could buy for a couple of bucks. Author Steven Brill tells us who is lining their pockets with our money. I don’t think I’ve ever been so furious, after reading it. If were up to me I’d make it required reading for every American. People, we are being robbed. These bandits make the villified bankers look like benevolent philanthropists.
The French system is day to America’s night. The World Health Organization rates the French system the best in the world (the US is 38th, though it’s by far the most expensive in the world). Life expectancy? The UN ranks the French 7th in the world, the US checks in at 40th.
We’ve lived with the French system for 10 years now, and been through small surgeries, procedures, routine care, and my husband’s bike accident which put him in the hospital and in-patient rehab for two months. Though French health care is not perfect, it’s pretty darn great. It’s cheap for us, and basically ‘free’ for every French person, though of course their tax rate is higher. But they get really great value for those taxes, and the system is completely equitable.
The first thing you’ll notice in France is this: doctors don’t have staff, unless they’re in a group practice, in which case they have a receptionist. If you’re French, you hand them your carte vitale, deal done. As expats without a ‘green card’, as they call the carte vitale, we write them a check on the spot ($30 for a GP, $40-$50 for any specialist). No paperwork, no insurance to file for doctor or patient, if you’re French. Contrast this with the states, where each doctor will have between 3 and 7 employees, most working on billing/administration. (Imagine what that adds to your costs).
In hospitals, we’ve gotten very good care--state of the art and top of the line. Unlike in the states, everything is priced at something close to the actual cost, so the prices are quite reasonable. Example: A trip in an ambulance in France runs about $50 euros; in the states it’s about 20 times that much.
But as an expat, will your insurance apply in France? That depends on your policy; we have military insurance so we're covered. Medicare does not apply in France. Ex-pats can buy special insurance policies to cover them in France and because health care is so much cheaper, the policies are cheaper too. If you’re a French resident with a Carte de Séjour (resident card), you can buy into the French system under some circumstances, the cost of which will be a percentage of your income (Visit Expatica, or Americans in France). PHOTO: The French live longer---is it the wine, the relaxed lifestyle, or the health care?
Now back to that Bitter Pill. Warning: if you are well when you read it, you’re going to feel quite ill when you finish. I couldn’t sleep the night I read it; Jon Stewart says that by the end of the article his hands we’re shaking and he was screaming. So what to do about it? I’m contacting my legislators toute de suite for a start, I hope you will too. As always, comments are welcome, I’m very interested to hear your take on the article, and on French health care if you have experience with it.
In the COMMENTS: Last week, an easy dinner menu. Natalia, wow, now that's a great menu for spoiling your guests! Anne, I love the idea of a spciy mustard in the dressing. Barbara of The Wise Collector shares a book on French cuisine, Bouquet De France; An Epicurean Tour of the French Provinces, that sounds like a must-read. Ido, felicitations on the baptism, and thanks for asking about my book--to be published at last this spring, I hope! Suzanne, an iron skillet should work perfectly for the tian and roast, I use mine for just about everything anyway. Carrie (of Season it Already!), come on over anytime!