Going to the Doctor in France

by Kelly · 11 comments

in Notes On Culture

I know that this is a politically charged issue, and that it’s a risk to bring it up here on Almost Frugal, where I really try to stay away from controversial topics like politics. But any discussion of my life involves at least some of the issues involved with living in France, and this happens to be one of them. The media in America have a hard time sometimes offering an unbiased view of what certain things are like in France, just as the French media often have their own particular bias about the United States. This post is not about promoting a political agenda, rather just describing my experience going to the doctor’s last Thursday.

I came home from work early Thursday morning after only being there for about an hour, and this after a five day weekend to boot, four of which had been spent with a fever and flu-like symptoms. I took a few aspirin for my pounding headache and fever, curled up in bed and tried to fall asleep. My husband came home at lunchtime however, and badgered me into making an appointment to see the doctor. So I called our neighborhood doctor, who is in fact a practice of three general practitioners who see the whole family. When one of the doctors answered the phone (no receptionist), I made an appointment for that afternoon.

My husband came home from work early, to take me to the doctor, and we drove the five minutes to her office, which is located in the center of our village, in a small apartment over the grocery store. We rang the bell and went inside to the small waiting room, which I assume used to be a bedroom. In fact, there are four units over the grocery store, and the other three continue to be used as apartments.

There was only one other patient waiting, so we didn’t have to wait long, which was good, because the reading material in French doctors’ offices leaves as much to be desired as in American doctors’ offices! Then the doctor called us in to her office.

After taking my social security insurance card, and inserting it into the reader, she started asking me how I was, what my symptoms were etc. Then I lay down on the examining table, she did a brief examination and a throat swab. While we waited for the results, she asked after the general health of the rest of the family, scolded me for not resting enough and reminded me that I need to get a tetanus shot. Then she wrote me a prescription for antibiotics and a work stop order, for two days off of work.

I paid her €22 by check. After finishing, we went downstairs and next door to the pharmacy where I again used my state insurance card. This time I received my antibiotics without any out-of-pocket expense, and the and private state insurance will reimburse the pharmacy.

The whole visit took about 1.5 hours, from when I left the house to going home again, and she might even have made a house call, had I been too sick to move. Admittedly, people living in Paris, or very rural areas won’t experience the same sort of treatment, but the general ease of the system is about the same. The cost of the visit will be automatically transmitted to the state insurance office, and I will be reimbursed €17 by them, and then another €4 by our private insurance company. While I won’t be paid for the two days that I didn’t work, if I had had a longer sick leave, I would have been paid at about 80% of my regular salary.

For more on healthcare in France, including numbers, see these two posts: Healthcare in France and Healthcare in France- an American’s Story.


1 Meg from FruWiki July 20, 2009

Sign me up for that plan! I’ve waited HOURS (4-6+) to be seen with an appointment at a general practitioner’s office! And that’s in a city known for it’s great healthcare options! And don’t even get me started on the many hours I’ve spent in agony waiting to be seen at ERs! Having your nose busted open might not be life or death critical in the short term, but it FREAKIN’ HURTS LIKE HELL!

And yes, it’s all pretty expensive here in the U.S. — even with insurance. I figure we have pretty good insurance through my husband’s work and we’re not living paycheck to paycheck, but we still think long and hard about costs before going in to see a doc — and then usually end up having to go when things get worse.

Plus, you never know what anything is going to cost! I had a procedure done recently that we expected to cost between $500 and $700 out of pocket with insurance. We paid $500 I think upfront, but then the day before when we went to fill out paperwork, get the blood-draw, etc. and were charged ANOTHER $700! Then a few weeks afterward we get a check in the mail for $300 that we overpaid — but in another envelope, from the same hospital was a BILL for $1200!!! So ended up paying over $2000 for a procedure we thought would cost a quarter of that!

And after another procedure, we were charged $400 extra because they switched docs on me — while I was under general anesthesia — to an out-of-network doctor. Obviously, I couldn’t consent or decline since I wasn’t even conscious. Nor did they ask my husband for permission. But apparently, they didn’t need it because it doesn’t matter!

How can people think that our system here is not BROKEN?!?! And again, I HAVE insurance, GOOD insurance supposedly, and the procedures were done at a WELL RESPECTED hospital. This is what good health care looks like?!
.-= Meg from FruWiki´s last blog ..Ice cube trays =-.

2 Coffeemomma July 20, 2009

Thank you so much for providing a “real” view of what healthcare is like in other countries. We Americans haven’t experienced it, and we hear a lot of things about how it takes weeks to see a doctor, people never see doctors, doctors are always too busy, etc etc. I’m sure there are a range of stories and experiences, but it was nice to hear yours. Feel better soon!

3 breagha July 20, 2009

Thank you for posting this. I live in the US, but I have lived and studied in both the UK and Germany, and in each country I had to go to the dr.
In Germany, as a uni student, I was mandated to purchase some sort of health insurance. I chose the most affordable one with the help of a friend, and thought nothing of it. Then, when I got really sick, I was thankful that I had coverage. (I believe, however, that at least some of the cost was subsidized by the government since I was a student, though I was paying student fees through my US uni). I walked to the local dr, made an appointment for later that morning, and then walked back to my dorm. When it was time, I walked back to the dr and was examined. I had “eine entzuendete Luftrohre,” or an infected trachea. I’m not sure what the exact US American medical translation would be, but that’s what I had. I paid less than 5 DM (this is before the Euro) for the exam and then paid little-to-nothing at the local pharmacy for the prescription. Very smooth. I was in and out in a few minutes, no waiting.
While again attending school in Europe, this time in the UK as a grad student, I thankfully never got really ill, but the few times I needed to go to the dr to have something checked out I simply walked in and gave my name. As a student paying tuition, I was covered under NHS while attending school and living there. I never made an appointment. I probably did have to wait a few minutes (never more than 30, and remember, this was a walk-in basis). I remember one time I did call ahead of time and if I had an appointment, the waiting was even less.
I never paid a penny out of pocket at the clinic, just showed my student ID card. I took a prescription to the pharmacy and paid between 2-5 pounds for the meds.
I never had a long wait, and was always treated kindly.
I don’t think ANY system is perfect, but I do think that health care is a right and not a privilege.

4 Camilla July 20, 2009

I live in Barcelona, Spain, and make use of the public health system. While many Spaniards complain about its inefficiency, I, a Brazilian who only relocated here one year ago, found that it’s a system that works at least to the short degree to which I needed it. I can’t even begin to compare it with Brazilian public health (I am torn between calling it a joke or non-existent).

I don’t understand exactly the political problems about the Health Care reform in the US (I only lived there for two years when I was a small child), but I have heard that it stems from not knowing about the reality in other countries. So I commend you for this post, and I hope Americans can get an idea of how things work in places where it’s actually implemented correctly!
.-= Camilla´s last blog ..Managing money, a recommendation. =-.

5 anne July 21, 2009

Thanks for sharing your experience. I personally do not believe that healthcare is a right – it is most definitely a privelege! We should be thankful for the individuals who put themselves through years of medical school, lots of training and very expensive student loans. We cannot demand that these individuals treat us because we do not take the steps for preventative care.

I agree that healthcare in the US is broken. Health insurance is expensive and tricky to navigate. However, preventative care and personal responsibility is also very broken! It’s no secret that obesity is a big risk factor for chronic diseases. Obesity has accounted for over 25% of the rise in medical costs between 1987 and 2001 (according to Dr. Bill Dietz, Director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the CDC). While it is also true that people of normal weight have medical issues which result in work day losses and higher insurance costs, most of their conditions are not as controllable as excess body fat. -some of this info came from the LEANworks program site-

All I’m trying to say is people cannot demand low-cost, high-quality healthcare and yet continue to live a life that contributes to poor health!

6 Meg from FruWiki July 21, 2009


The obesity epidemic is a complicated issue. Money alone will not solve it, however I do believe that a lot of people would eat better if they could afford it and that they’d love professional guidance in nutrition and exercise. Also, a lot of people, self included, first gained weight because of a medical problem, either directly or indirectly. While diseases that cause weight gain directly are indeed rather rare, there are many diseases and other problems that make it harder to exercise — as well as medications that promote weight gain because they cause more fatigue or because they lower the metabolism or because they increase appetite.

However, I don’t think people should be denied health care just because their problem might be somehow their fault. None of us are perfect. Should someone who was in a car accident be denied health care because they took the wrong road that day? We all make choices in our lives and few if any are perfect. There are always unforeseen consequences. Many people went on low-fat diets in the 70s and 80s because they were told to by the nutritionists of then — yet we now know that high carb diets lead to impaired blood sugar functions that lead to diabetes, weight gain, and other issues. Likewise, people gave up butter for margarine because it was supposed to be much healthier — but now we know the opposite is true.

I do believe that health care is right. Or perhaps, I should say that providing heath care is a responsibility that we have as a society. What kind of society are we if we would deny people the treatment they need to live or even to live well enough so that they can be productive members of society? Would people vote differently if they could see the lives that they are voting against? The loved ones left behind? Would they not see that by denying others life saving measures that it’s not much better than shooting them like a lame horse? Scratch that, it’s worse. At least the horse isn’t left to suffer and it doesn’t leave behind a spouse and kids.

Health care should NOT be the privilege of the rich, but yet it is slipping away even from the middle class. The working poor have long suffered, but we in America are only starting to do stuff now that the middle class, the great voting block, is seeing how bad they themselves are getting it even with health insurance. It’s about time.
.-= Meg from FruWiki´s last blog ..Kids eat free =-.

7 Hilde July 22, 2009

In Germany, when you are in the public health system, you pay 10 € for the first visit at your GP per quarter year. After that, every visit is free, as are house calls and consultations at a specialist. When you have to go to the hospital, you pay nothing. For prescriptions, you pay a certain percentage of the price, up to (I think) 10 €. From the doctors and hospitals, you don´t even getto see a bill. If you are insured “privately”, you pay everything yourself first and get it back from your insurance. Most of the hospitals, however, have contracts with the insurance companies so they get their money directly from them without you having to pay thousands of € first.

8 Maren July 22, 2009

I agree with the posts above. I think our health care system is broken and needs to be fixed. The issue raised currently in the United States is not IF something needs to be done, I think most sane people would agree to that. The questions is if the US government the best entity to manage health care for the American people? From my perspective, our government can’t seem to do anything within a budget, Fed or State (I live in CA). If we are talking about frugality, I don’t think the government is best suited to take over health care.

9 Jenny Beth @ JenuineJen August 2, 2009

I live in the US and read your blog often. Thank you for your posts, tips, and advice.

Without getting into the politics of the matter (which I do on many other blogs), here is what I have experienced being uninsured in America.

My husband is unemployed and has been that way since closing his business over 2 years ago. We are making ends meet through piecemeal consulting work. We do not have health insurance. We have 6 year old twins. We have found that while we do not have health insurance, we have been able to get very affordable health care without it. When we go to the doctor, we make sure we tell them that we do not have insurance. They usually give us a discounted rate if we pay our total balance the day we go. If I cannot pay everything at a doctor’s office or at a hospital, I know I will be able to work out a payment plan with them, just like I would be able to do if I had to pay off my deductible. We have used the Minute Clinic in CVS many times and have been more than pleased with the results.

WalMart has about 200 generic drugs available for about $5 per month. A few drugstores have a drug plan you can sign up for if you do not have insurance and you get a significant savings. Publix grocery stores have free generic antibiotics for several drugs.

About 3 weeks ago, I developed an awful rash on my back that was quite painful. After a few days of living with the pain, I decided I needed to have it looked at. I went to the CVS Minute Clinic at 4:30 in the afternoon on a Tuesday in July. There was no one in line ahead of me so there was no waiting. The nurse prac looked at it and immediately diagnosed me with shingles. She too reminded me I need to get a tetanus shot. She examined my ears, throat, eyes, blood pressure, etc. She called the pharmacy to get the costs of the drugs I would need. She told me the cost differences and differences of what the drugs would do. She gave me a printout of what I could do to treat the symptoms at home, what to look for in case the rash got worse, what to look for if I needed to follow up with my regular physician. I paid the Minute Clinic $60. Then I paid $20 for my drugs. The total time from the time I walked into the store until the time I left was 32 minutes.
.-= Jenny Beth @ JenuineJen´s last blog ..First Grade =-.

10 Claire in CA, USA August 5, 2009

Your experience is definitely encouraging. Though I am with Maren, in that I don’t think the government can touch anything without screwing it up, I am more concerned with catastrophic illness treatments. The horror stories I have heard first hand, from Canadians and Australians, are directly related to people who need surgeries or have serious, long-term illnesses that are treated minimally, or in the case of our friend’s father from Australia, not treated at all. My fear is that as I age and may need treatment for something life-threatening, the government will not find it is beneficial to them to treat me. It is happening in other countries with universal health care, and it will happen here.
.-= Claire in CA, USA´s last blog ..40 Days of Lent =-.

11 Melanie September 4, 2009

To Anne: I would love preventative care but find that even preventative care is expensive and I have a “great” plan through my employer compared to most other employers in my area. We always think thrice before making an appointment b/c we know it’s going to cost us.

There was a whooping cough outbreak at my sons school with about 6 confirmed cases. He was sick with a fever, cough and was just exhausted for a couple days. He had almost missed a week of school with the county heath services contacted us to inquire about his condition. My youngest son started experiencing the same symptoms. We took them in for the whooping cough tests, by appointment (non-emergency services) and it was over $300 each for just the tests alone! Over $600 out of pocket! That is crazy and the school would not allow him to come back without doctors clearance/5 day antibiotic treatment. Tests came back negative. I can’t imagine what the bill would have been had I not had insurance and, no, I couldn’t pay that same day. Something needs to change.

Previous post:

Next post: