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HEALTH

France ‘considering’ charging non-vaccinated people for Covid tests

The French health minister has said he is willing to consider the idea of charging non-vaccinated people for 'convenience' Covid tests - for example tests needed to travel or to enter venues like nightclubs.

France 'considering' charging non-vaccinated people for Covid tests
Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

Patrick Berche, a doctor and member of the Académie de médecine has proposed starting to charge for Covid tests done for “personal convenience” – if the patient is not vaccinated.

At present all tests are free – even for tourists – and test results can be presented instead of a vaccination certificate at events which require a health passport to enter – such as concerts or nightclubs – or for travel.

READ ALSO How France’s health passport works

Berche’s idea is to exert a gentle pressure on more people to get vaccinated.

Tests performed for contact tracing reasons or if a person has symptoms, will remain free.

“It’s an option that’s being looked at,” health minister Olivier Véran told France Info on Tuesday.

“Not right away, because currently we need everybody to be able to be tested, and it’s a credit to our country that there are no financial obstacles to getting tested.

“Once all French people have been offered the vaccine – and there are some who are yet to take the plunge – the question will arise around whether, when going to a nightclub or such and such place with a convenience test even though you’re not symptomatic or a contact case, this should be paid for from the public purse.

“I’m very open to discussions on this topic.”

“It’s a great idea,” Benjamin Davido, an infectious disease specialist, told Le Parisien.

“Some will say that it is an unconfessed form of vaccination obligation, but I do not agree: nothing obliges to visit a relative abroad or to go to a concert. The goal is mainly to eliminate the few people who do routine tests or for their own convenience.”

France is one of the few countries that does not charge for travel tests.

It has also extended free testing to tourists over the summer, mainly to keep Covid numbers down, but something that is welcome for travellers who need a test to return to their home country.

READ ALSO How visitors can get a Covid test in France

Throughout the earlier stages of the pandemic, people in France were encouraged to take a test before visiting elderly relatives or travelling to another part of the country, but now authorities are keen to direct people towards vaccination.

The rate of first injections for the vaccine has slowed in recent weeks, worrying for authorities as cases of the Delta variant of Covid are on the rise. 

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HEALTH

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones. 

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