A five bullet point summary of French healthcare

CC Image courtesy of katerha on Flickr

In its 2000 report the World Health Organization ranked France as the best healthcare system in the world. While the study is more than a decade old, and criticised in some quarters, it’s clear much of the world has a respect for the French system. When Michael Moore wanted to show effective alternatives to the US system in his documentary Sicko France took centre stage.


But the system is far from perfect. France is still dealing with the aftershocks of an antibiotics prescribing push and is battling to control spending on healthcare. Where does that leave you as an expat in Montpellier? In good hands, broadly speaking. Below you’ll find a whistlestop tour of the French healthcare system you’ll encounter living in Montpellier.


  • France has a public-private hybrid healthcare model. A visit to the doctor ends with the exchange of cash or a cheque. An odd experience for Brits. By filling out the feuille de soins you get from the doctor or pharmacist you can reclaim 70% of your costs.


  • To ease the reimbursement process you need a carte vitale. Getting the card involves form filing, document sharing, and patience. The best place to start is your local L’Assurance Maladie, or its website. By presenting this health card you will quickly have 70% of your costs reimbursed.


  • If you want the remaining 30% covered you need health insurance, called a mutuelle. which is probably offered by your bank. Terms vary from deal-to-deal but in exchange for a monthly payment you’ll receive cover beyond what the French state provides.


  • You need a doctor’s note to get paid sick leave. This means dragging your aching bones and nauseous belly to your local doctor to sit in a room full of sick people. Sensible? Maybe not, but it’s what needs to be done. That way when your return to work you’ll be armed with a doctor’s note saying you were genuinely ill.


  • A visit to the doctor will also result in a sack full of medications. An investigation by a French government institution found that in 2009 the country spent €114 ($91) a head on medicines, close to double the amount in the UK. And it really shows when you visit the doctor. There’s also a decent chance some of the medicines you’re prescribed will be herbal or homoeopathic medicines.

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