Thursday, December 03, 2009

French Health Care

During 6 years from 2001 to 2007, I lived in France where I payed taxes like everyone else and benefited from certain acquis sociaux. Specifically, I paid into and participated in social security, which in France refers not only to retirement and disability benefits but also access to a public health care system. I'm not yet of the age to receive retirement benefits but I did receive plenty of health care while living in France.

Here are a few of my experiences

1) When I first received my Vie Privée et Familiale visa which allowed me to live and work in France, I was invited for an appointment in a governmental building on the outskirts of Paris for a medical exam. Similar to the health screening which takes place in the Unites States, it is in the best interest of the French government to ensure that new arrivals are not bring in disease. The experience was surreal. A dreary concrete building near the highway. Long lines of men, waiting to get chest x-rays and to read eye exam charts. Cold floors and less than welcoming civil servants.

2) To oversimplify, the public health coverage handles around 75 percent of medical costs, perhaps even more. In order to cover the remaining 25 percent people buy into a private "complementary" insurance which reimburses the rest. The run-of-the-mill complementary insurance cost me 30 euros a month. 30 euros a month!! At the same time, several times a year in amounts indexed on my revenu, I paid into a caisse de securité sociale, an organization responsible for managing the input and output of social security funds.

3) Although my health needs were not great, I did require a few surgeries to remove some cysts in my eyelids caused by an allergic reaction. Quickly and simply, I was able to make appointments with several eye specialists. Each visit was cheap, often times reimbursed entirely by my public coverage. When it became clear that I need the cysts to be lanced, the operation took place in less than 1 week at one of the best hospitals in Paris and cost me nothing.

4) Once I fell ill with a high fever and violent vomiting. As weak as I was, my girlfriend and I thought it best not to wait until the next day. She called a 1-800 number (or the equivalent thereof). Within the hour, an experienced doctor came to our apartment on a house-call. He looked me over quickly, gave me a shot, and told me to get some sleep. After being reimbursed, I believe I paid 35 euros for this service.

Now, I am just one person who navigated the system in one singular way. These experiences are just anecdotal, but I feel inclined to shared given all the mud slinging we hear on TV and over the airwaves as a result of the debate on capitol hill.

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