17 France Healthcare System Pros and Cons

The healthcare system in France is primarily funded through a national health insurance program that is financed by the government. Although the average GDP spent on healthcare in France is generally higher than it is in Europe, it is still about 50% lower than what the U.S. spends each year.

About 80% of the expenditures created through personal care are covered by the healthcare system in France. Most general practitioners are in a private practice, then get their income from the system’s public insurance funds.

The government refunds patients about 70% of their general healthcare needs. For long-term or expensive services, their coverage is 100%.

Here are the pros and cons of the French healthcare system to consider.

List of the Pros of the French Healthcare System

1. It provides better access to healthcare.
Because a majority of the healthcare costs are covered by the system in France, most people can afford to access a medical provider if they have a health concern. Because full coverage of costs is based on cost or diagnosis, almost no one is denied coverage due to their financial situation. They just need to schedule an appointment with a provider to discuss their concerns.

2. It offers access to specialist care.
There isn’t an excessive network of referrals and authorizations that are required to see a specialist for a healthcare concern in France. If the general practitioner finds an issue which needs to be evaluated by a specialist, then the patient goes to the specialist directly. There are no rejections because a medical provider doesn’t accept a specific type of insurance or patient’s credit is not good enough.

3. It is focused on preventative care.
One of the easiest ways to reduce the costs of healthcare is to focus on proactive health habits. Encouraging patients to make healthy choices, followed by annual checkups and proactive visits, helps to make the French healthcare system one of the most effective in the world at what it does.

4. It provides doctors with a fair wage.
Doctors in France earn about 60% of what a doctor in the United States typically earns. The debt-to-income ratio for doctors in France, however, is about equal to U.S.-based doctors. French doctors pay no tuition fees when they go to medical school in France. In the United States, the average cost of a 4-year degree at a private university is nearly $300,000.

5. It allows anyone to qualify for the system.
To become eligible for services provided through the national healthcare insurance, patients need to provide proof of residency in France for 3 months. That means anyone can access the benefits of the French healthcare system if there is an issue they need to have addressed. If you’re outside of this 3-month window, you can still visit a medical provider to receive services. You’ll just be asked to pay for those services out-of-pocket instead.

6. It allows patients to choose their own doctors.
Unlike other universal systems of healthcare, patients in France are permitted to choose their own doctors. That includes a right to pursue treatment from a specialist without a referral from another doctor if they so choose. That process eliminates the inconvenience of being assigned a specific doctor within the healthcare system, while encouraging doctors to provide quality services to have an established base of clientele.

7. It allows for supplemental insurance to be purchased.
For general medical visits, prices are fixed at a specific rate. Let’s say that you want to go in for your annual physical within the French healthcare system. You would pay 23 euros at the time of writing for the visit. With the 70% refund provided by the national healthcare insurance, you’d have a charge of 6.90 euros to pay for the visit – the equivalent of a co-pay in the U.S. healthcare system. With supplemental insurance, that out-of-pocket expense could be covered too.

8. It provides a free checkup.
Every 5 years, patients in France are provided a free checkup on the status of their health. This is a full-service exam that is provided at no charge. Patients receive a hearing exam, an eye exam, a dental exam, blood tests, and even x-rays.

9. It covers alternative treatments at the same rate.
Patients are permitted to pursue alternative treatments for their healthcare needs in France. That means homeopathy is fully covered. That includes treatments for unhealthy habits as well. If you want to stop smoking in France, then the healthcare system supports the effort. It also supports the need to seek out therapeutic help for mental health concerns you may have without needing to worry about insurance coverage.

10. It provides private clinic coverage.
There are no waiting periods within the French healthcare system if beds aren’t available for your specific healthcare need. You have the option of working with a private clinic if the public clinic is unable to provide services. The national healthcare insurance covers private services at the 70% rate, leaving patients to cover the other 30% and whatever premium may be added to the cost.

List of the Cons of the French Healthcare System

1. It creates a system of higher taxation.
To pay for the healthcare costs of the general population, the French people pay higher tax rates than other parts of the world. That means people who do not require medical attention as often are subsidizing the care of others who do need to visit the doctor regularly. Although everyone receives the same care access, there can be a negative stigma for some who may feel that they are paying too much for something they don’t really need.

2. It can create worker shortages.
Because there is a higher demand for healthcare services in France, there can be medical providers who are under-staffed to meet demand levels. Anyone can schedule a visit at any time. If the number of patients rises without enough time to meet that demand, then the quality of service goes down.

3. It can charge patients 100% for services rendered in some instances.
If you have not established the 3-month residency period for the French healthcare system, then you can be charged 100% of the cost of the medical services provided. Patients who prefer to skip directly to a specialist for a healthcare issue they face can also be charged the full amount for the services rendered during their visit. Exceptions do occur, such as going to a dentist or an OB/GYN. There may be reduced red tape with this healthcare system, but it does still exist, and that must be taken into account.

4. It rarely revisits the fixed rates within the system.
Some of the fixed rates within the French healthcare system are priced so low that the services rendered are not profitable for the medical provider. Dentists see this issue quite often. The fixed rate for a cavity, for example, is 25 euros. Patients find that their providers often push them toward cosmetic procedures, such as a crown, that create more profits for the provider, even if they are not technically necessary.

5. It does not always look at prevention as a first option.
The French healthcare system provides women with a free abortion. It also requires individuals to pay for their contraception. From a purely financial standpoint, it is cheaper to have an abortion in France than it is to prevent the pregnancy in the first place. The structure also means that you can go to the doctor, with supplemental insurance, to receive free medication. If you go the pharmacy, you’d still need to pay for the medicine, which creates abuses within the system.

6. It can provide long wait times.
For routine checkups, the amount of time it takes to get an appointment can be a wait of several weeks, depending on your location in the country and the availability of doctors. That means proactive planning is required to ensure that medical care is received on time. With such a shortage of care options in place, the wait time for an emergency healthcare need can be several hours long, unless there is a life-threatening situation which needs to be addressed.

7. It creates treatments that may not be necessary.
According to the Euro health consumer index, the tendency of the French healthcare system is to create a diagnosis for many conditions that many not need to be medicalized. That means patients within the system tend to receive more medication that may be unnecessary when compared to other systems of healthcare around the world.

The pros and cons of the France healthcare system highlight its accessibility and overall affordability. Even people just visiting the country can benefit from the benefits that are available with this system. A waiting period ensures that services are provided to those who are integrating themselves into the French culture. This type of healthcare system does come with an added cost as well, which some may find to be burdensome.

Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.