French healthcare is generally held to be excellent, and they are very big on preventative healthcare, something which probably explains the average life expectancy age of 83. The vast majority of patients overwhelmingly rate their overall experience highly, but this level of service and care does, of course, come at a price. So, who pays? And is it free to use? For those coming from countries such as the UK where healthcare is free at the point of delivery or the USA where care is intrinsically linked to insurance, the French system can seem complicated. However, once you grasp how the system works, navigating your way around it is fairly simple.
The universal system is a hybrid, with the majority of the costs financed by the state and the rest by the individual or private insurance. Both employees and employers pay taxes which contribute to the healthcare system. Taxes in France are high but the country spends more than 11% of its GDP on healthcare.
If you are buying a property in France with a view to either spending periods of time there or becoming a permanent resident, you will need to consider your health cover requirements. For those who are ‘just visiting’ you will be covered by the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) which you can apply for if you are a UK citizen. This gives access to emergency or necessary state healthcare in France and other EU countries for free or at a lower cost. If you have the previous EHIC card and it’s still in date, you can use it until it expires. However, you will only be reimbursed at the same rate as a French national. For example, should you need to visit a GP during your stay, you will need to pay upfront, and you will then be given a feuille de soin, a brown coloured form which details the treatment, the doctor and the charges. You then send this off and will have 70% of the cost reimbursed. The reimbursement rates vary but are generally around the 70% mark which is why the majority of French residents have ‘top-up’ insurance which covers the remaining 30%.
French Health Insurance
As neither the GHIC nor EHIC cover everything, especially repatriation to get you home, travel insurance which includes all eventualities, including medical repatriation or helicopter mountain rescue is vital. I speak from personal experience here as some years ago, my father-in-law had to fork out £10,000 to be flown home in an air ambulance having traveled to France with just an EHIC card!
It is also sensible to bring any prescription drugs you need; if you need to get more from a French chemist or pharmacie, you will need a prescription so it makes sense to travel with a doctor’s note explaining why you take this medication.
Those who intend to become French residents who meet residency requirements and have lived in France for three months, can benefit from the French healthcare and insurance system. Cover is also available for those who move to France to take up a position where insurance cover is provided by their employer. Healthcare is generally excellent with high quality and affordable care, swift referral times and preventative care for all. However, for the first three months an expat will have to take out private health cover until they are able to join the schemes and indeed, this cover is now mandatory as part of the visa application process.
When you’ve joined the French state healthcare system, you can apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which entitles you to free or reduced cost medical treatment while visiting another EU country. Equally visiting EU citizens with an EHIC card from their home country, can use this to access the French system in case of emergency. Once in the system you will be given a Carte Vitale or health insurance card. The green plastic card contains your social security number and you will need to show this when consulting any medical professionals or when collecting prescriptions at the chemist. It is linked directly to your health insurance provider (different professions have different providers) and you can opt to have your medical history attached to it. The card should be updated annually or when any details change. This is done at automatic information points called bornes, which are found at health centres and chemists.
Understanding the system is also key in terms of deciding whether or not you need top up health insurance. Most French citizens have an additional policy to top up their coverage for any costs not covered by the state. Having an assurance complémentaire santé or ‘mutuelle’ policy ensures that you don’t incur charges for visits to chiropractors, osteopaths and so on or some types of prescription medication where the state only covers a certain percentage of the cost. This type of insurance typically covers the remaining 30% of any medical costs including emergency hospital care. It also covers the extra costs incurred for dentistry. Basic procedures are covered by the state but more complex treatments and orthodontics often result in significant extra costs and the same applies to vision and eye care.
Mutuelle policies vary enormously in terms of both price and the cover they offer. There are numerous companies in the market all of which offer a range of policies. You should shop around, ask for recommendations, compare prices online, and find a policy that best fits your needs. This is easier said than done – French insurers are no different to any others in terms of the ‘small print’ and grasping the detail in another language is at best tricky and at times, nigh on impossible! So unless your French is fluent it may be better to opt for a company which offers documentation and policy cover explanations in English. Whilst such companies exist, they are not necessarily competitive in terms of pricing and the cover provided may not be appropriate for your individual circumstance. The best solution is an English speaking broker who is able to listen to your requirements, shop around for the best possible policy for your personal situation and then explain the cover to you in English. This is why we recommend https://www.fabfrenchinsurance.com/r/healeyfox-medical – an entirely independent insurance broker with an English speaking team.
TOP TIP : France is a popular destination for lovers of outdoor sports, so if visiting, make sure your travel insurance includes cover for activities such as canyoning, kayaking or skiing!