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What changes about life in France from February 2019

As ever, the new month signals a new raft of small but perhaps important changes in France. Here's what you need to know.

What changes about life in France from February 2019
Photo: AFP

Gas prices 

Gas prices are set to drop once again from February 1st. 
 
Those who use gas for cooking will see a drop of 0.3 percent, households that use gas for cooking and hot water will see a price drop of 0.5 percent and those who use it for heating as well will see a drop of 0.8 percent. 
 
After an average drop of 1.9 percent on January 1st gas prices will fall by 0.73 percent in February. 
 
Gas prices are expected to remain stable in March but should go down again in April (by 1.91 percent), May ( by 0.6 percent) and June ( by 0.45 percent).
 
These regulated tariffs apply to nearly 4.5 million French households that buy their gas through Engie.
 
These price drops come after a period of steep increases at the end of 2018 (+ 5.8 percent in November, + 3.25 percent in October, + 0.9 percent in September).
 
Photo: AFP
 
Prime d’activité
 
The prime d’activité or top-up benefit for those who are working for low salaries will expand to include five million households from February 1st. 
 
This was one of the key measures announced by French President Emmanuel Macron in response the demands of the yellow vest protesters. 
 
The move means that 1.2 million more households will receive the non-taxable benefit and in addition it will go up by €90 for all of those entitled to it. 
 
Loi Alimentation (food law)
 
From February 1st in France certain big brand food products will rocket in price due to the introduction of a new Loi Alimentation (food law). 
 
Prices on a whopping 800 food products are set to shoot up, including items such as President Camembert, which is set to go up by 8.6 percent to €1.51, everyone's favourite chocolate spread Nutella, which will see a price hike of 8.4 percent meaning a jar will cost €4.39, and Ricard Pastis, which will go up by 9.9 percent to €20.61. 
 
The move is an attempt on the part of the government to create a better selling environment for smaller producers. 
 
With the new law in place big brands will be forced to sell the products in question with at least a ten percent margin. 
 
That means that if a product was bought by the supermarket for €1 it would have to be sold for at least €1.10 in a bid to make it impossible to sell food at a loss to small producers and farmers. 
 
Not so supermarché? Why we either loathe or love French supermarkets
Photo: AFP
 
Pensions
 
Pensions will increase by only 0.3 percent in February — well below the inflation forecast by the government for this year (+ 1.3 percent).
 
Motorway toll fees
 
Motorway companies are raising toll fees on February 1st by an average of 1.8 percent.
 
However to offset this increase, a new subscription service will be offered to frequent drivers. 
 
All motorists who make at least ten round trips a month on the same route will benefit from a 30 percent discount at toll booths (péages) from the very first journey.
 
Drivers will need to subscribe for the deal which they will be able to do from February 1st, with the threshold low enough to be accessible to those who work part time. 
 
Moving vans 
 
From February 1st, moving vans in Paris have to pay to park on the city's streets and customers will see the amount added to their bill. 
 
It was previously possible for moving vans to park for several hours in the streets of the French capital as long as permission had been given by the town hall. 
 

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HEALTH

Mutuelles: Why is French health insurance getting more expensive?

France’s top-up health insurance 'mutuelles' have been getting steadily more expensive in 2020. Here’s a look at what’s changing, why and who is the worst affected.

Mutuelles: Why is French health insurance getting more expensive?
A dentist is checking the teeth of an elderly lady in a nursing home in Paris. Photo: AFP

“The prices have never been so high in France,” said Fabien Soccio, spokesperson for the company Meilleure Assurance (Best Insurance).

His company this week revealed the results of a new study of France's private health insurance fees, mutuelles, to French media.

After comparing 55 different mutuelles health insurances, Meilleur Assurance concluded that there had been a general spike in the average cost.

What is a mutuelle?

France has generous state health care that covers a lot of medical expenses, but not all costs are reimbursed.

In France you pay upfront for your doctor's appointment, prescription or procedure and then the government reimburses the costs to you. Depending on the procedure and your situation, usually about 80-90 percent of the cost is reimbursed.

If that cost is a €25 appointment with your GP that's not such a big deal, but with more expensive treatments the costs can mount up, which is where a mutuelle comes in.

The mutuelle is a 'top-up' insurance – not obligatory, but recommended – which covers extra costs that are not covered by the state. How much a mutuelle covers will depend on the kind of insurance, where you live and the expenses in question.

If you are an employee, your employer must pay for at least half the cost of your mutuelle

Who was affected by the price increase?

The 2020 price hike touched the country as a whole, however some regions and population groups were harder hit than others, Soccio told Le Parisien.

To compare the costs for different socio-demographic groups, Meilleur Assurance created three different types of profiles; a 25-year-old employee with a “classic” mutuelle; a couple with two children, also on a “classic” mutuelle and a 60-year-old couple with “strengthened” guarantees in their mutuelle.

Seniors hardest hit

Retirees tend to go for fuller versions of mutuelles because these cover additional costs (such as dental and optical treatments). 

Seniors on extensive types of mutuelles were those suffering the steepest price increases this year, Soccio said. 

“In 2020, fifteen départements exceeded a threshold of €3,000 in annual fees for a senior couple with extra guarantees,” Soccio said.

“That’s an average increase of more than €176 in one year,” he said.

For the couple with a child, the increase was slighter ( an extra 4 percent), whereas the young employee saw health insurance bills largely unchanged.

READ ALSO Brexit: Do I need a mutuelle to get residency in France?

 

.. along with Parisians

The study also revealed large price differences between different regions, with inhabitants in the Paris region Ile-de-France paying the highest bills for their mutuelles.

A retired couple would pay on average €528 more if they lived in Paris compared to if they lived in a more rural, cheaper département like Mayenne.

Similarly, employees would pay 30 percent more on average in Paris than in Pays-de-la-Loire.

Parisians also saw the steepest price increases since last year, by 14.6 percent on average for the retired couple with a mutuelle covering extra costs.

On a national level, the average price increase for the same couple was 12.1 percent. 

.. but everyone was a little worse off

However the country as a whole saw a price increase last year, with even those opting for the cheapest kinds of health insurance affected by the general price hike.

In one year, from 2019 to 2020, the cheapest type of health insurance had increased by 13.7 percent, according to the study. 

Why the increase?

Prices generally increase a little every year, but this year was unusual, Soccio said.

“Today, we are in an uncertain and troubled situation,” he told Europe 1, listing several factors that had contributed to the price increase: the Covid-19 pandemic, the government's new health reform known as “100 percent Santé”, and a new health tax known as the “Covid surtax”.

When the French government presented their new budget for 2021, centred on their dazzling €100 billion relaunch plan, they promised not to increase taxes for the French. Instead, to top up their savings a little, the government introduced a new tax, the “Covid surtax”, which will be paid through the mutuelles and other health insurance companies.

This tax will provide €1 billion in total to the state in 2021, and €500 million in 2022, according to French media.

What about the future?

Soccio said he worried the trend of prices increasing would continue in the next couple of years, leading to steep prices for even those opting for the cheaper mutuelles.

“It's safe to bet that the national average costs will pass €3,000 in the next two years,” he told Le Parisien.

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