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Health care in France

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Health care in France

The French health care system is one of [1] In 2011, France spent 11.6% of GDP on health care, or US$4,086 per capita,[2] a figure much higher than the average spent by countries in Europe but less than in the US. Approximately 77% of health expenditures are covered by government funded agencies.[3]

Most general physicians are in private practice but draw their income from the public insurance funds. These funds, unlike their German counterparts, have never gained self-management responsibility. Instead, the government has taken responsibility for the financial and operational management of health insurance (by setting premium levels related to income and determining the prices of goods and services refunded).[1] The French government generally refunds patients 70% of most health care costs, and 100% in case of costly or long-term ailments. Supplemental coverage may be bought from private insurers, most of them nonprofit, mutual insurers. Until 2000, coverage was restricted to those who contributed to social security (generally, workers or retirees), excluding some poor segments of the population; the government of Lionel Jospin put into place universal health coverage and extended the coverage to all those legally resident in France. Only about 3.7% of hospital treatment costs are reimbursed through private insurance, but a much higher share of the cost of spectacles and prostheses (21.9%), drugs (18.6%) and dental care (35.9%) (Figures from the year 2000). There are public hospitals, non-profit independent hospitals (which are linked to the public system), as well as private for-profit hospitals.

Average life expectancy in France at birth is 81 years.[4][5]


The reduction in infant mortality between 1960 and 2008 for France in comparison with Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The current system has undergone several changes since its foundation in 1945, though the basis of the system remains state planned and operated.[6]

Jean de Kervasdoué, a health economist, believes that French medicine is of great quality and is "the only credible alternative to the Americanization of world medicine." According to Kervasdoué, France's surgeons, clinicians, psychiatrists, and its emergency care system (SAMU) are an example for the world. However, despite this, Kervasdoué criticizes the fact that hospitals must comply with 43 bodies of regulation and the nit-picking bureaucracy that can be found in the system. Kervasdoué believes that the state intervenes too much in regulating the daily functions of French hospitals.

Furthermore, Japan, Sweden, and the Netherlands have health care systems with comparable performance to that of France's, yet spend no more than 8% of their GDP (against France's spending of more than 10% of its GDP).

According to various experts, the battered state of the French social security system's finances is causing the growth of France's health care expenses. To control expenses, these experts recommend a reorganization of access to health care providers, revisions to pertinent laws, a repossession by CNAMTS of the continued development of medicines, and the democratization of budgetary arbitration to counter pressure from the pharmaceutical industry.

Health care system

Total health spending per capita, in U.S. dollars PPP-adjusted, of France compared amongst various other first world nations.

The entire population must pay compulsory health insurance. The insurers are non-profit agencies that annually participate in negotiations with the state regarding the overall funding of health care in France. There are three main funds, the largest of which covers 84% of the population and the other two a further 12%. A premium is deducted from all employees' pay automatically. The 2001 Social Security Funding Act, set the rates for health insurance covering the statutory health care plan at 5.25% on earned income, capital and winnings from gambling and at 3.95% on benefits (pensions and allowances).[7]

After paying the doctor's or dentist's fee, a proportion is reimbursed. This is around 75 to 80%, but can be as much as 85%. The balance is effectively a co-payment paid by the patient but it can also be recovered if the patient pays a regular premium to a voluntary health insurance scheme. Nationally, about half of such copayments are paid from VHI insurance and half out of pocket.

Under recent rules (the coordinated consultation procedure, in French: "parcours de soins coordonné"), general practitioners ("médecin généraliste" or "docteur") are expected to act as "gate keepers" who refer patients to a specialist or a hospital when necessary. However the system offers free choice of the reference doctor, which is not restricted to only general practitioner and may still be a specialist or a doctor in a public or private hospital. The goal is to limit the number of consultations for the same illness.[8] The incentive is financial in that expenses are reimbursed at much lower rates for patients who go directly to another doctor (except for dentists, ophthalmologists, gynaecologists and psychiatrists); vital emergencies are still exempt from requiring the advice from the reference doctor, which will be informed later. As costs are borne by the patient and then reimbursed, patients have freedom of choice of where to receive health care services.[8]

Around 65% of hospital beds in France are provided by public hospitals, around 15% by private non-profit organizations, and 20% by for-profit companies.

Minister of Health and Solidarity is a cabinet position in the government of France. The healthcare portfolio oversees the public services and the health insurance part of Social Security. As ministerial departments are not fixed and depend on the Prime Minister's choice, the Minister sometimes has other portfolios among Work, Pensions, Family, the Elderly, Handicapped people and Women's Rights. In that case, they are assisted by junior Ministers who focus on specific parts of the portfolio.

Fees and reimbursements

Act Fee % reimbursed Patient charge
Generalist consultation 23 € 70% 6,60 €
Specialist consultation 25 € 70% 7,50 €
Psychiatrist consultation 37 € 70% 11,10 €
Cardiologist consultation 49 € 70% 14,17 €
Filling a cavity 19,28 € – 48,20 € 70% 5,78 € – 14,46 €
Root canal 93,99 € 70% 28,20 €
Teeth cleaning 28,92 € 70% 8,68 €
Prescription Medicine variable 35 – 100% variable
30 Ibuprofen 200 mg 2,51 € 60% 1,00 €

Médecin généraliste

The médecin généraliste (commonly called docteur) is responsible for patient long-term care. This implies prevention, education, care of diseases and traumas that do not require a specialist. They also follow severe diseases day-to-day (between acute crises that may require a specialist).

They survey epidemics, fulfil a legal role (consultation of traumas that can bring compensation, certificates for the practice of a sport, death certificates, certificates for hospitalization without consent in case of mental incapacity), and a role in emergency care (they can be called by the samu, the emergency medical service). They often go to a patient's home if the patient cannot come to the consulting room (especially in case of children or old people) and they must also perform night and week-end duty.

Health insurance

Because the model of finance in the French health care system is based on a social insurance model, contributions to the program are based on income. Prior to reform of the system in 1998, contributions were 12.8% of gross earnings levied on the employer and 6.8% levied directly on the employee. The 1998 reforms extended the system so that the more wealthy with capital income (and not just those with income from employment) also had to contribute; since then the 6.8% figure has dropped to 0.75% of earned income. In its place a wider levy based on total income has been introduced, gambling taxes are now redirected towards health care and recipients of social benefits also must contribute.[9] Because the insurance is compulsory, the system is effectively financed by general taxation rather than traditional insurance (as typified by auto or home insurance, where risk levels determine premiums).

The founders of the French social security system were largely inspired by the Beveridge Report in the United Kingdom and aimed to create a single system guaranteeing uniform rights for all. However, there was much opposition from certain socio-professional groups who already benefited from the previous insurance coverage that had more favourable terms. These people were allowed to keep their own systems. Today, 95% of the population are covered by 3 main schemes. One for commerce and industry workers and their families, another for agricultural workers and lastly the national insurance fund for self-employed non-agricultural workers.[9]

All working people are required to pay a portion of their income into a health insurance fund, which mutualizes the risk of illness and which reimburses medical expenses at varying rates. Children and spouses of insured individuals are eligible for benefits, as well. Each fund is free to manage its own budget and reimburse medical expenses at the rate it saw fit.

The government has two responsibilities in this system:

  • The first is a government responsibility that fixes the rate at which medical expenses should be negotiated and it does this in two ways. The Ministry of Health directly negotiates prices of medicine with the manufacturers, based on the average price of sale observed in neighbouring countries. A board of doctors and experts decides if the medicine provides a valuable enough medical benefit to be reimbursed (note that most medicine is reimbursed, including homeopathy). In parallel, the government fixes the reimbursement rate for medical services. Doctors choose to be in Sector 1 and adhere to the negotiated fees, to Sector 2 and be allowed to charge higher fees within reason ("tact and mesure") or Sector 3 and have no fee limits (a very small percentage of physicians, and their patients have reduced reimbursements). The social security system will only reimburse at the pre-set rate. These tariffs are set annually through negotiation with doctors' representative organisations.
  • The second government responsibility is oversight of health-insurance funds, to ensure that they are correctly managing the sums they receive, and to ensure oversight of the public hospital network.

Today, this system is more or less intact. All citizens and legal foreign residents of France are covered by one of these mandatory programs, which continue to be funded by worker participation. However, since 1945, a number of major changes have been introduced. Firstly, the different health care funds (there are five: General, Independent, Agricultural, Student, Public Servants) now all reimburse at the same rate. Secondly, since 2000, the government now provides health care to those who are not covered by a mandatory regime (those who have never worked and who are not students, meaning the very rich or the very poor). This regime, unlike the worker-financed ones, is financed via general taxation and reimburses at a higher rate than the profession-based system for those who cannot afford to make up the difference.

Finally, to counter the rise in health-care costs, the government has installed two plans (in 2004 and 2006), which require most people to declare a referring doctor in order to be fully reimbursed for specialist visits, and which installed a mandatory co-payment of € 1 (about US$1.35) for a doctor visit (limited to 50 € annually), 0.50 € (about US$0.77) for each prescribed medicine (also limited to 50 € annually) and a fee of €16–18 ($20–25) per day for hospital stays (considered to be the "hotel" part of the hospital stay; that is, an amount people would pay anyway for food, etc.) and for expensive procedures. Such declaration is not required for children below 16 years old (because they already benefit from another protection program), for foreigners without residence in France (who will get benefits depending on existing international agreements between their own national health care program and the French Social Security), or those benefiting from a health-care system of French overseas territories, and for those people that benefit from the minimum medical assistance.

An important element of the French insurance system is solidarity: the more ill a person becomes, the less they pay. This means that for people with serious or chronic illnesses (with vital risks, such as cancers, AIDS, or severe mental illness, where the person becomes very dependent of his medical assistance and protection) the insurance system reimburses them 100% of expenses and waives their co-payment charges.

Finally, for fees that the mandatory system does not cover, there is a large range of private complementary insurance plans available. The market for these programs is very competitive. Such insurance is often subsidised by the employer, which means that premiums are usually modest. 85% of French people benefit from complementary private health insurance.[10][11]


A government body, ANAES, Agence Nationale d'Accréditation et d'Evaluation en Santé (The National Agency for Accreditation and Health Care Evaluation) is responsible for issuing recommendations and practice guidelines. There are recommendations on clinical practice (RPC), relating to the diagnosis, treatment and supervision of certain conditions, and in some cases, to the evaluation of reimbursement arrangements. ANAES also publishes practice guidelines which are recommendations on good practice that doctors are required to follow according to the terms of agreements signed between their professional representatives and the health insurance funds. There are also recommendations regarding drug prescriptions, and to a lesser extent, the prescription or provision of medical examination. By law, doctors must maintain their professional knowledge with ongoing professional education.[9]

Emergency medicine

Private Ambulance in Pontarlier

Ambulatory care includes care by general practitioners who are largely self-employed and mostly work alone, although about a third of all GPs work in a group practice. GPs do not exercise gatekeeper functions in the French medical system and people can see any registered medical practitioner of choice including specialists. Thus ambulatory care can take place in many settings.


Total health spending as a percentage of GDP for France compared amongst various other first world nations from 2005 to 2008

The French healthcare system was [12] It is a universal health care system. It features a mix of public and private services, relatively low expenditure, high patient success rates and low mortality rates,[13] and high consumer satisfaction.[14] Its aims are to combine low cost with flexibility of patient choice as well as doctors' autonomy.[15] While 99.9% of the French population is covered, the rising cost of the system has been a source of concern,[16][17] as has the lack of emergency service in some areas.[18] In 2004, the system underwent a number of reforms, including introduction of the Carte Vitale smart card system, improved treatment of patients with rare diseases, and efforts aimed at reducing medical fraud. While private medical care exists in France, the 75% of doctors who are in the national program provide care free to the patient, with costs being reimbursed from government funds.[19][20] Like most countries, France faces problems of rising costs of prescription medication, increasing unemployment, and a large aging population.[21]

Expenses related to the healthcare system in France represented 10.5% of the country's GDP and 15.4% of its public expenditures. In 2004, 78.4% of these expenses were paid for by the state.


About 62 percent of French hospital capacity is met by publicly owned and managed hospitals. The remaining capacity is split evenly (18% each) between non-profit sector hospitals (which are linked to the public sector and which tend to be owned by foundations, religious organizations or mutual-insurance associations) and by for-profit institutions.[9]

Public health

France, as all EU countries, is under an EU directive to reduce sewage discharge to sensitive areas. In 2006, France was only 40% in compliance, one of the lowest achieving countries in the EU with regard to this waste-water treatment standard[22]

Healthcare issues in France

Obesity in France

Even though French are among the thinner Europeans (see chart below), obesity in France has been increasingly cited as a major health issue in recent years. It is now considered a political issue whereas just a few years prior it would only have been an issue reported on television talk shows or in women's magazines.[23] There is a myth about French people not getting overweight or obese[24] however France is only ranked as the 128th fattest country in the World,[25] one of the lowest rank among developed countries and French food has long been studied for its healthy diet.

Country Average weight BMI[26] Daily Calorie Intake Source
United Kingdom 80 kg 29 2,200 [27]
Italy 74 kg 26 2,100
Germany 73.5 kg 26 2,400
France 68 kg 24 2,200


While French doctors only earn about 60% of what American doctors make, their expenses are reduced because they pay no tuition for medical school and malpractice insurance is less costly compared with the United States.[28] The French National Insurance system also pays for a part of social security taxes owed by doctors that agree to charge the government-approved fees.[29]

Public perception

Historian Dannielle Horan claims that while many in the US deride the French system as "socialized medicine," the French do not consider their mixed public and private system "socialized" and the population tends to look down upon British- and Canadian-style socialized medicine.[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b "World Health Organization Assesses the World's Health Systems". 8 December 2010. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  2. ^ "WHO country facts: France". Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  3. ^ The World Health Report 2000: WHO
  4. ^  
  5. ^ "Updated statistics from a 2009 report". Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  6. ^ "Medical News Today". Medical News Today. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  7. ^ "France-prel.indd" (PDF). Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  8. ^ a b (French) How to choose and declare his referring doctor in France to get maximum health care benefits, (official web site of the Assurance Maladie)
  9. ^ a b c d Health Care Systems in Transition – France: WHO
  10. ^ "L'assurance maladie". Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  11. ^ John S. Ambler, "The French Welfare State: surviving social and ideological change", New York University Press, 30 September 1993, ISBN 978-0-8147-0626-8
  12. ^ Cline, Mary (15 April 2008). "ABC News". Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  13. ^ "". 18 June 2009. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  14. ^ "NIH & American Journal of Public Health". 10 September 2002. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  15. ^ a b "NPR". NPR. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  16. ^ Gauthier, David (7 August 2009). "Wall Street Journal". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  17. ^ "A Brief History blog". 8 August 2009. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  18. ^ "Paris Voice Webzine". Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  19. ^ "French Embassy to the US". Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  20. ^ Yglesias, Matthew (13 July 2009). "Matthew Yglesias article". Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  21. ^ Drum, Kevin (6 August 2009). "Mother Jones Magazine". Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  22. ^ "Water – a precious resource".  
  23. ^ Sciolino, Elaine (25 January 2006). "France Battles a Problem That Grows and Grows: Fat". New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  24. ^ Rosenthal, Elisabeth (4 May 2005). "Even the French are fighting obesity". New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  25. ^ "World's Fattest Countries". Forbes. 8 February 2007. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  26. ^ In the Western world, from 18.5 to 25 BMI is considered normal, overweight ranges from 25 to 30 BMI.
  27. ^ Freeman, Sarah (14 December 2010). "Obesity still eating away at health of the nation". Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 18 December 2010. 
  28. ^ Dallas News
  29. ^ [1]

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