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Healthcare in France

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

Growing up in France and now living in the US as a mother of three, I have experienced first hand the nuances in the health care system on both sides of the Atlantic. Trying not to fall in clichés, there are clear differences and I often find myself wishing for a system that falls somewhere in the middle - taking the best of both.

Here are a few main facts about the French health care system that you might find interesting. If any of these bring some questions, send us a message - we will be happy to answer them on our Instagram page.

Cost of primary physician visit:
Carte vitale

If you’re a tourist visiting France, it will only cost you €25 to see a generalist. French residents who are part of the French medical system get refunded 75% of their cost directly into their bank account. For medical visits, you only see a doctor. Each individual has a "carte vitale" that they use au "cabinet médical" - the doctor's office. We do not have mid level providers such as physician assistants and there won’t be a nurse present during exams. Note that there is a shortage of physicians in France, especially in smaller towns - these are often referred to as "Désert médical" (Medical desert). It is increasingly difficult to find a generalist and it can take months to get a MRI scheduled - these only cost €65!

How does France afford to provide these services:

In 2021, the French social security ran 24,6 milliards d'euros in debt. Note that France has some of the highest income taxes: "Les impôts". Nearly all the population (95 %) has either a compulsory or voluntary health insurance, mainly to cover co-payments on health services, pharmaceuticals, eyeglasses and dental care. The remaining 9 % is paid directly out of pocket by households, the lowest share across EU countries and well below the EU average (about 16 %). In France, the national insurance program is funded mostly by payroll and income taxes, similarly to what we are used to in the US. Doctors' fees are negotiated with medical unions by quasi-public insurance funds who receive the tax payments. A doctor can choose to work outside this system, and a growing minority now charge what patients are willing to pay out of pocket.

The government also regulates most hospital fees. This system works collectively to keep costs down. In France, the sicker you are, the more coverage you get. For people with one of 30 long-term and expensive illnesses — such as diabetes, mental illness and cancer — the government picks up 100 percent of their health care costs, including surgeries, therapies and drugs. We refer to our health care system as "Système de santé universel" or Universal health care.


We do not have urgent care centers but in big cities, there is a network of doctors called SOS médecins who do house calls 24/7, even on holidays. It costs more (~90€ in Paris) but most of it is reimbursed. Some cities are opening clinics for non-urgent visits to try to alleviate the ER (les urgences) who tend to get overcrowded. For instance, my son broke his arm this summer. Instead of going to the ER, since it is normally the only available place to go in this situation, we were able to take him to the non-urgent care clinic in the nearby town. The clinic is open like an ER for cases like this one that are non life-threatening but still require immediate evaluation.

Pharmacy sign

French doctors don’t always keep vaccines and shots in their office. They write a prescription, you pick it up at the pharmacy and you then need to bring it back to the doctor to have it administered.

French pharmacies sell homeopathic items and French people are fond of alternative medicine. 60% of the population uses homeopathic remedies. When the government decided to reduce the reimbursement of homeopathic treatment in 2020, it caused an uproar.

Cultural offering:

You will find below a list of movies we have selected around the theme of health - "la santé".

We are happy to share that we are partnering with France Channel TV, the #1 streaming service dedicated to French Culture and Entertainment.

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  • Supercondriaque

Romain Faubert, a 40-year-old bachelor, is a photographer for an online medical dictionary, which has developed in him acute hypochondria and paranoia. Dr. Dimitri Zvenka, his attending physician and only friend, decides to help him, believing that the only cure for Romain's disorder is to find love. He will later regret it, given the extent of his patient's illness...

  • Une vie démente (Madly in Life)

Alex and Noémie would like to have a child. But their plans get derailed when Alex's elegant and charismatic mother, Suzanne, becomes increasingly zany. Between the child they desire and the unmanageable child that Suzanne has become, everything is turned upside down. This is the story of a rodeo, the bumpy journey of a couple who discover parenting in reverse!

  • Mon âme par toi guérie (One Of A Kind)

Like his late mother, Frédi has an ability to heal others, simply by laying his hands on a sick person. However, he decides to neglect it, thinking that it comes with to much responsibility. He falls into a daily, depressing routine. His fate changes when he knocks down a boy, who later plunges into coma, and Frédi will try to do everything to save him. Furthermore, he meets a woman, who may as well give him back a taste of life.

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