One of the most asked questions for this American expat in France is about healthcare. “What do you do about healthcare when moving to France?”
The simple reply is, “Travelers insurance.” You really want to know the answer: “Don’t worry about it.”
I couldn’t be more serious. If you’re going to be insured or sick, you couldn’t find a better place to do it than France. Yes, you can take it from one who knows. I’ve just completed a 10-week stint going through an emergency operation, hospitalization, and rehab hospitalization in the South of France.
The post below was written when I was literally flat on my back in the hospital. Since then, I’ve returned to my apartment in Uzés. I’m back at the top of the apartment with 55 steps and going to physical therapy 5 days a week. I’m walking there and back. It’s been a really long road, albeit a fantastic experience. It’s given me great respect for the French, their hospitals, and the staff. And I’ve learned a bit of French — out of sheer necessity. Very few people I encountered along the way spoke English.
I’ll be honest: the traveler’s insurance company hasn’t kicked in to repay me, but the bills are minimal so far. My surgeon and the hospital continue to say there’s no charge for the emergency surgery or 10-day hospital stay afterward. The rehab hospitals have yet to totally bill me, but I understand it’s like 220 euros a day for room, board, and 2 hours of physical therapy a day. I’ll keep you posted.
Here’s the story …
The Barefoot Blogger will step out of her carefree expat role to talk about something critically important to me at this moment: Healthcare.
As I type with one finger of my left hand, I am lying in a bed in a rehabilitation hospital outside Nimes, France.
I’ve been hospitalized in the French healthcare system since September 18, when I fell crossing the street while co-leading a ladies’ tour with my good friend, author Patricia Sands.
A unique perspective on my French vs. USA healthcare from one who has experienced a similar orthopedic injury and treatment in both countries.
I wrote about the accident in a previous post. I knew I’d be writing an “inside story” about my experience with the French medical system as an American expat.
Telling the story now, before the upcoming election in the US, seems a perfect time.
French Healthcare: Hospital Admission
My accident occurred in Aigues-Mortes, a historic walled city in the south of France, on Tuesday afternoon, September 18.
After my fall, I was taken by ambulance to the hospital of my choice, Centre Hospitalizer Universitaire Carémeau, in Nimes. A hospital in Montpelier was a nearby alternative, but Nîmes was closer to my home in Uzès. Both are university hospitals with excellent reputations.
The ambulance ride to the hospital in Nimes was traumatic, just as you’d expect. The heat, the pain, and my anxiety were all at play. Fortunately, the hospital was less than an hour away.
When we arrived at the hospital, I was asked a few questions, fortunately by someone who spoke English. Simple things like my full name, where I lived, and did I have allergies. No one asked for my passport, formal identification, or proof of medical insurance.
The admissions process, emergency room examination, X-rays, and placement in a semi-private room took about 3 hours.
A longtime friend on the ladies’ tour was allowed to accompany me through each stage of the process. “To hold my hand.” The hospital staff quickly knew neither of us spoke French.
French Healthcare: Surgery
The hospital I was taken to in Nimes after the accident is a university hospital. They have a large, active emergency care unit. Since my situation was far from life-threatening, my surgery was not performed immediately. It was more like 36 hours later.
Meanwhile, I was in a semi-private room with a patient awaiting her second knee operation, not because of my room or roommate but because I was pretty miserable. No morphine or heavy painkillers were given to me before surgery. I was told morphine was not allowed because of its adverse effects on anesthetics administered during surgery.
I remember how relieved I was when the mask went on my face at the beginning of surgery. I knew when I woke up, I would be in la-la land.
French Healthcare: Post Surgery
I had no idea where I was when I awoke from surgery. No one spoke English. All I remember is that I was moved around a bit, probably from one level of surgery aftercare to another.
Fortunately, I was cognizant that I was in France, alive, and wanted to move to my room as quickly as possible so people would let me be. So I said “c’est bien” anytime I was asked a question. No telling what I agreed to.
I occupied a hospital bed in a large double room for ten days with a dear French woman who became my new best friend, Chantal. She spoke not a word of English. Nevertheless, we carried on a daily ritual something like this:
” Bonjour, Deborah,” she said each morning. “Comment allez vous?” she’d ask.
”Bonjour, Chantal,” I’d respond. “Ça va bien, “I’d answer. Then “ Comment allez vous?”
The simple question\answer exercise would continue through the day — every day — ending with our shared “Bonne nuit.”
My daily care during the ten days in the hospital (“hopital” in French) was extraordinarily good. Except for the wrong food and occasional curt response from a nurse or “colleague,” presumedly because my French was unintelligible, I was treated well. There was a time or two when I was left too long on a bedpan, but the small things could be overlooked when I considered my every physical need was being tended to 24/7.
French Healthcare: Rehab
Sometime before the end of my ten days in the hospital in Nimes, I learned I was being transferred for physical rehabilitation to a hospital in a small town outside Nimes. I was not going to the rehab hospital in Uzès as I’d expected. It was fully occupied. For the first time since the ordeal started, I cried. In fact, I boohooed.
The idea that I was going to some unknown village where no one would speak English was terrifying. Thoughts of Jane Eyre came to my mind. I envisioned being cast away behind stone walls where I would be starved and mistreated. What had I done to deserve such a fate?
When I came to my senses, I realized I could find out about the strange new place by simply searching the Internet. I discovered I was headed for a brand new hospital, constructed in 2016, with a sterling reputation for orthopedic rehabilitation. Case closed. I was content with my fate.
French Healthcare: Cost
It’s day 40 since I was hospitalized in France due to a hip and shoulder fracture. Except for a bill for the ambulance that transferred me from the Nimes hospital to the rehab hospital outside Nimes and a bill for compression stockings, I have not been asked to pay anything.
The items above cost 76 euros ($86.83) and 56 euros ($63.98), respectively. I paid those bills by check. I will be reimbursed by the travel insurance company when I file a claim.
I will receive a bill for time spent in the rehab hospital when I leave. A friend who inquired about payment for the rehab hospital was told it would cost 197 euros per day ($224). The cost includes physical therapy: 1 1/2 hours daily, Monday through Friday.
News flash: I have heard I won’t be billed for my time at the hospital in Nimes. Not for the surgery nor the 10 days as an inpatient.
There is no charge for emergency services in France.
Let that sink in.
Tomorrow, I am moving to the rehab hospital in Uzès. My doctor here pulled a few strings to have me transferred. Perhaps she did it because she thought it would be good for me to be closer to home and my friends. Or, she might have wanted to get rid of me. Draw your own conclusion. Either way, I’m “outta here.”
I plan to stay in Uzès until November 6, when I’ll be taken by ambulance to the hospital in Nimes. If all checks out and my bones are healed, I’ll spend the next 3 to 4 weeks in the Uzès rehab hospital and begin weight-bearing exercises to regain my mobility.
When the doctor releases me, I can return to independent living and outpatient rehab.
Next: US Healthcare “A comparison.”
Stay tuned for Part 2 …..
For More on French Healthcare for Expats, Contact Renestance