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Main article: Health care in France

The French model of health insurance has been ranked by the World Health Organization as the best in the world, because it permits a high quality of care and nearly total patient freedom. The national system of health insurance was instituted in 1945, just after the end of the Second World War.  It was a compromise between Gaullist and Communist representatives in the French parliament. The Conservative Gaullists were opposed to a state-run healthcare system, while the Communists were supportive of a complete nationalization of health care along a British Beveridge model.

The resulting programme was profession-based: all people working were required to pay a portion of their income to a health insurance fund, which mutualised the risk of illness, and which reimbursed medical expenses at varying rates. Children and spouses of insured people were eligible for benefits, as well. Each fund was free to manage its own budget and reimburse medical expenses at the rate it saw fit.

The government has two responsibilities in this system.

The first government responsibility is the fixing of the rate at which medical expenses should be negotiated, and it does this in two ways: The Ministry of Health directly negotiates prices of medicine with the manufacturers, based on the average price of sale observed in neighboring countries. A board of doctors and experts decides if the medicine provides a valuable enough medical benefit to be reimbursed (note that most medicine is reimbursed, including homeopathy). In parallel, the government fixes the reimbursement rate for medical services : this means that a doctor is free to charge the fee that he wishes for a consultation or an examination, but the social security system will only reimburse it at a pre-set rate. These tariffs are set annually through negotiation with doctors' representative organizations.

The second government responsibility is oversight of the health-insurance funds, to ensure that they are correctly managing the sums they receive, and to ensure oversight of the public hospital network.

Today, this system is more-or-less intact. All citizens and legal foreign residents of France are covered by one of these mandatory programs, which continue to be funded by worker participation. However, since 1945, a number of major changes have been introduced. Firstly, the different health-care funds (there are five : General, Independent, Agricultural, Student, Public Servants) now all reimburse at the same rate. Secondly, since 2000, the government now provides health care to those who are not covered by a mandatory regime (those who have never worked and who are not students, meaning the very rich or the very poor). This regime, unlike the worker-financed ones, is financed via general taxation and reimburses at a higher rate than the profession-based system for those who cannot afford to make up the difference. Finally, to counter the rise in health-care costs, the government has installed two plans, (in 2004 and 2006), which require insured people to declare a referring doctor in order to be fully reimbursed for specialist visits, and which installed a mandatory co-pay of 1 € (about $1.45) for a doctor visit, 0,50 € (about 80 ¢) for each box of medicine prescribed, and a fee of 16-18 € (20-25 $) per day for hospital stays and for expensive procedures.

An important element of the French insurance system is solidarity:  the more ill a person becomes, the less they pay.  This means that for people with serious or chronic illnesses, the insurance system reimburses them 100 % of expenses, and waives their co-pay charges.

Finally, for fees that the mandatory system does not cover, there is a large range of private complementary insurance plans available. The market for these programs is very competitive, and often subsidized by the employer, which means that premiums are usually modest. 85% of French people benefit from complementary private health insurance.


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Note:  What this article does not mention is the large co-pay that French people have to pay. Also that the French doctors salaries are limited, and in effect frozen by the government.



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