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Finding Your New Physician: Doctors and Dentists in France
At a Glance:
- On moving to France, you need to find a doctor to act as your médecin traitant.
- Doctor’s fees are low and can be claimed back through social security and private top-up insurance.
- For routine procedures, dentist’s fees are capped at reasonable rates, but these can spiral for rarer or cosmetic treatment.
Getting sick abroad is made all the worse when you are not able to visit your trusted family doctor or dentist. But rest assured, you are in safe hands in France as the country is home to one of the best healthcare systems in the world.
From the outside, the system can seem a little complicated, though, so here are some guidelines for getting hold of a doctor and going to the dentist.
A Doctor for Life
When you sign up for health coverage, you need to pick a so-called “treating doctor” or médecin traitant. It doesn’t matter whether your médecin traitant is a specialist or a general practitioner, and you can change doctors at any time by notifying your insurance provider. Children usually have the same médecin traitant as at least one of their parents, but this is not obligatory.
Your médecin traitant will keep track of your medical history and can refer you to specialists or other doctors if needed. This is called the “coordinated care pathway” system. Following this system, you are only meant to make appointments with doctors recommended to you by your official médecin traitant.
While it is possible to bypass the official recommendations and source your own specialist, the reimbursement rate will be lowered if you do not follow the pathway system. This means only 30% of the costs will be refunded, instead of 70%. There are exceptions to this rule if you want to consult an ophthalmologist or gynecologist: you will be spared any financial penalty for finding your own doctor in these cases.
Doctors’ offices are found all across France and are known as cabinets. These practices are often joint enterprises between multiple doctors. You can ask at your nearest pharmacy where the closest office is, or you can locate a doctor online.
If your French is still pretty rusty, you may want to consider picking an English-speaking doctor for your stay in France. If you live in a rural area, this can be challenging, but most big cities will have bilingual doctors. Both the Australian and American embassies in France have published a list of English-speaking doctors on their websites. For expats who have more confidence in their French, you can source a local doctor using the PagesJaunes and searching for “médicin”.
Cash for the Consultation
While most fees will be reimbursed, do not forget your wallet when headed to the doctor’s as some costs will need to be paid upfront. These fees are fairly low, and a consultation with the doctor costs between 25 and 30 EUR, which the state will reimburse you for at a later point.
However, there will most likely be an additional 1 EUR fee, which must be paid by the patient. This small, extra fee is called a participation forfaitaire or forfait and is charged for every medical action: for example, if you have a consultation and an x-ray on the same day, you will be charged 2 EUR on top of the fee your social security will cover. These charges are capped at 4 EUR per day and 50 EUR in total for the entire year, so you won’t be racking up big bills if you get sick.
You can usually pay for your treatment by cash, check or debit card, but it is increasingly common for practitioners to be linked up to a centralized system which allows patients to use their carte Vitale instead. This card is issued by the state insurance company and means the patient does not have to pay at all. Instead, the money is taken directly from social security, skipping the reimbursement stage.
Out of Hours but Not Out of Luck
If you get sick out of ordinary working hours, you will not be able to simply turn up at the cabinet. Like shops, pharmacies, and all official services in France, doctors’ offices are typically shut in the evenings and on Sundays. However, if you are in need of assistance after hours, a rota system will be in operation — at least in big cities — to ensure a doctor is available.
The system known as Maisons médicales de garde (MMG) means the on-call doctor will be regularly rotated, so it is best to phone your local gendarmerie (police station) or the SAMU emergency number (15) to find out which office you need to call. There is information available online for those living in Paris as well as some other major cities. At an MMG, there is usually an extra fee incurred with treatment out of office hours, but this can often be reimbursed through France’s social security system thanks to top-up insurance.
It is worth noting that the out-of-hours doctors are not forced to stay on duty, meaning only about 15% of the population are served by the MMG late-night system. Especially in rural areas, there is often no out-of-hours medical care, except in case of accident or emergency.
There is a secondary out-of-hours service run by SOS Médecins. This call-out service may be able to help you if you live within their operating area and dial the emergency number 112 or their own direct line. The latter can be reached by dialing 3624, although you will be charged at a rate of 0.15 EUR per minute.
Keeping Your Pearly Whites in Good Shape
Basic dentistry (e.g. consultations, cavities, tooth extractions) will be covered by the state, but many more complex or cosmetic treatments will be pricier and the patients will have to shoulder the costs themselves.
France’s hybrid health insurance system means the state has lobbied for low prices on routine treatment. A simple consultation will cost you 23 EUR, while a tooth can be extracted for less than 35 EUR. These prices are capped if you are covered by the state insurance system, and you can claim 70% of the fee back from the government. Your private top-up insurance should cover the rest.
Fees for non-essential or infrequent treatments can vary considerably, and the state will not give you any money back for cosmetic procedures such as teeth whitening. There are official guideline prices for non-regular procedures such as fitting a crown or having a tooth implant, but dentists are under no obligation to stick to this fee.
This means having a tooth crowned could cost you anywhere from a few hundred to more than a thousand euro, despite the recommended price being less than 110 EUR. It is also worth noting that the state insurer will only reimburse you 70% of the official treatment price: you would receive around 75 EUR after having a crown fitted even if you had paid well above the 110 EUR price tag. The rest of the bill will need to be picked up by a private insurer or the patient themselves.
Therefore, dentists are legally required to produce an estimate for how much their work will cost prior to treating you. There are also websites which offer reviews and price comparisons of individual practices, although it is still best to get an official quote before you book in your treatment.
Children are offered a free dental check-up every three years between the ages of 6 and 18, and these dental exams are even compulsory between the ages of 6 and 12. You will receive a letter from the Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie, which entitles your children to their regular examination. Take this letter to the dentist and you will not be charged for the consultation.
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