Health Care à la française

Having been away from France for about a year, first in China and then in California, I’m taking advantage of my month-long stay in Paris over the Christmas holidays to see doctors, my dentist and physical therapist; have tests and X-rays done; glasses and orthopedic soles made; as well as stocking up on medicine, contact lenses, and so forth.
This is because in Berkeley, where I’ve been living for the past five months and where I’m returning for an indefinite period, I haven’t got medical coverage. Of course, while in the U.S., I can get treated, but I must pay “out of pocket” and it is very expensive for people like me. I learned this recently upon consulting a doctor at the health center of U.C. Berkeley, where I am attached as a “visiting scholar.” Having come down with a parasite in my digestive tract following my six months in China, I was so uncomfortable I decided I had to consult an American doctor. My visit to a primary care doctor, two lab tests and six pills came to $450!
Luckily, French national health will reimburse me for some of my expenses, but at French rates, which are a lot less than in America. And if anything serious were ever to happen to me while in the United States or traveling elsewhere, the insurance I have with my American Express “gold card” and through my French car and house insurance will “repatriate” me back to France, as they did for my son Sebastien when he had a serious biking accident in Bolivia this summer.
But I still do worry when I’m in the U.S., and I certainly commiserate with all the people there who don’t have medical coverage. I also don’t understand why many Americans are against “a public option” on Obama’s new health care plan and want to continue being obliged to get care through private health insurance companies.
In France, we have “national health” with “a public option”, but we all pay into it—both employers and employees. Some people in the U.S. might call this “socialistic”. I call it “civic” and “wise”. If you have universal health coverage, society at large benefits. You have a healthy population, and that’s important.
I worked for 35 years in France and paid into the system for all that time. As a certified teacher and thus a French civil servant, I also subscribed to a complementary teacher’s insurance, the MGEN. The latter works very closely with French “securite sociale”, the national health care plan, and reimburses at lower rates than certain corporate or private insurance plans. (In France, you pay and then get reimbursed by the “securite sociale”; further reimbursement can then be made by your complementary insurance plan.) The MGEN doesn’t reimburse completely for such things as glasses, expensive dental care, osteopathy, private rooms in public hospitals or clinics, and so forth. And seeing a specialist is only partly reimbursed. However, when coupled with the “securite sociale”, it usually completely covers visits to family doctors, prescription medicine, physical therapy, operations and shared hospital rooms.
All this to explain why I’ve been so busy these past two weeks in France taking care of my health! In addition to the fact that I am reimbursed for most of my expenses, I also have a wonderful relationship with my doctors and health care workers here. They are all very competent, but you can also really talk to them. My family doctor gave me a big hug to wish me a Happy New Year and a great sojourn in California; the orthopedic surgeon who operated on my left foot two years ago said all was now fine, and then we proceeded to talk about Eisenhower and World War II; my physical therapist described his recent trip to Vietnam; my female gynecologist wanted to hear all about my stay in Berkeley; and my eye doctor told me how she was afraid the French medical system would become more and more privatised and then not work as well.

Published in: on January 10, 2010 at 9:56 am  Comments (2)