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How does healthcare in France compare?

When thinking about social benefits in France, healthcare is probably the first to come to mind. But is France's healthcare system all that it's cracked up to be? We did some comparisons between healthcare in France, the EU, UK and US.

How does healthcare in France compare?
Photo by Lucas Santos on Unsplash

France’s healthcare system is generally viewed as one of the best in the world, and in good news for foreigners all permanent residents in the country are entitled to register with the state-funding system.

Click HERE for more details on how it works and how to register. 

The French system is a reimbursement one – you pay upfront for appointments, medication and medical procedures and, if you are registered in the system, the French state reimburses you some or all of the cost.

But how good are the services that you receive?

Number of doctors – In regard to the amount of practising medical professionals, France performs better than both the United Kingdom and United States, with a higher number of medical doctors and nurses per 1,000 inhabitants. France’s 6.5 physicians per 1,000 people is also higher than the EU average of 4.9. 

Here is a graphic of the number of practising generalists per 100,000 inhabitants in the EU – France has the fifth highest ratio.

Cost – It’s difficult to compare an individual’s spending on healthcare, since every country’s system is different.

In France the majority of your healthcare costs are covered by the state healthcare system, known as assurance maladie, and this is funded by taxes – healthcare costs account for about 13 percent of the average person’s gross salary.

Any top-up costs can be covered by private insurance known as a mutuelle – the average cost for under 30s is €38 per month, and if you are an employee your company must pay at least half. 

The UK health system is also based on state healthcare via the NHS, which is funded by taxes which account for about 4.5 percent of the average citizens’ gross income.

Some things are not covered by the NHS such as dental care or prescriptions and for most people these must be paid for in full as out-of-pocket expenses. The average cost per person for prescriptions and medical devices is £303 (€357) per year.  

In the US the system is different and is largely based on private health insurance with only minimal public healthcare.

The average health insurance premium for a 40-year-old is $477 per month – how this plays out in terms of income share depends on their earnings. Those in the bottom ten percent by income spend 35 percent of their pre-tax income on health care on average, whereas those in the top 10 percent only spend about 3.5 percent of their pre-tax income.

Doctor and appointment wait times – In comparison to other countries, France was more or less average in terms of doctor wait times.

A study conducted in 2016 showed that 56 percent of people in France reported being able to see a healthcare provider within a day, which is better than 51 percent in the US, but slightly worse than the UK who reported 57 percent of people able to see a provider within a day. However, the pandemic has had a major effect on wait times for certain types of healthcare.

When focusing on elective care in the UK, wait lists can become notoriously long, by some accounts exceeding the population of Denmark. In the UK, long wait times was listed as the ‘most concerning issue’ facing the NHS, according to a recent IPSOS survey.

As the French healthcare system allows for a more flexible ‘shop around’ approach for both primary and elective care, these types of wait lists less common – if your GP has no available appointments you can go and see another doctor without having to register.

On top of that, in terms of simply finding care, France’s unique med-tech start-up Doctolib, which allows patients to book appointments using their portal, claims to have reduced these wait times even further in recent years. For specialists like ophthalmologists and dermatologists, the company claims to have more than halved pre-existing wait times. 

But the healthcare system must be doing something right because life expectancy in France is pretty good – 82.4 years compared to 81.0 in the UK, an EU average of 80.6 and 78.5 in the US. The world’s oldest person also lives in France, her name is Sister André, she’s a nun who lives in the south of the country and enjoys chocolate and a glass of port.

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Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

Experts have warned of a particularly bad flu epidemic this winter in France due to a combination of lowered immune systems and 'vaccine apathy' - urging high-risk groups to get their shot as soon as the flu vaccination campaign begins in October.

Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

France’s annual flu vaccine campaign will officially get under way on October 18th this year – and medical experts have warned that this year’s season may be a bad one amid fears of “vaccine apathy”.

When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters in France this autumn

Immunologist Alain Fischer, who chaired France’s Conseil d’orientation de la stratégie vaccinale throughout the Covid-19 pandemic said that the high number of flu cases in Australia and the southern hemisphere in its winter were “a warning sign” that this winter’s flu, coupled with rising cases of Covid-19, could lead to a sharp rise in hospitalisations again in the winter.

“For two years, influenza has been kept at bay, thanks to the barrier measures we have put in place against Covid,” he told Le Parisien. 

“This year, it will be difficult to maintain the same level of protection: masks, distancing, intensive hand washing … Faced with this relaxation, there is a serious risk of flu epidemic.”

Between two million and six million people contract flu every winter in France. The infection is responsible for between 4,000 and 6,000 deaths every year, usually among people aged 65 and over. But in ‘bad’ flu years, that mortality figure can rise rapidly.

READ ALSO When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters this autumn in France

The country, meanwhile, is at the start of what is being described as an “eighth wave” of Covid, and the Haute Autorité de santé recommends the eligible, vulnerable people ensure they are vaccinated against both viruses as early as possible. “A Covid-flu cohabitation is not a good thing,”  Fischer said. “It is synonymous with a very high number of hospitalisations. 

“Hence the objective of two strong vaccination campaigns – Covid and flu – especially for the most vulnerable.”

“The double injection is very good, and practical for patients. But I think that we should not wait, especially vulnerable people. It is a mistake to think that you will get your Covid booster when the flu vaccine is here – the Covid jab should not be delayed.”

Currently less than 40 percent of people eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine have received their latest dose.

Dual-strain Covid-19 vaccines designed to combat both delta and omicron variants will be available in France from October 3rd.

READ ALSO France approves new vaccines for Covid Omicron sub-variants

“It is quite possible to get your Covid injection in early October and flu vaccine in late October – you will need both anyway,” Fischer said.

The Haute Autorité de Santé recommends influenza vaccination for the following groups:

  • people aged 65 and over; 
  • people with chronic diseases; 
  • pregnant women;
  • people suffering from obesity (BMI equal to or greater than 40 kg/m 2 );
  • Infants under 6 months at risk of serious influenza;
  • Families and others close to immunocompromised people; 
  • home help workers caring for vulnerable individuals.

For anyone in these groups, the flu vaccine is 100 percent covered by health insurance and delivered free of charge to the pharmacy, on presentation of a voucher.