Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Medical Tourism Comes to France

Ever since my un-expected encounter with mortality and the French medical system back in 2007 (see my post “Thinking about Having Brain Surgery During Your Stay?”), I have been encouraging my fellow Americans to come to France for medical care.  Not only do they have some of the best doctors and hospitals in Europe, but the price is definitely right. For example, a friend told me that an MRI can cost up to $6,000 in the US, while here it would cost $200 max (and I should know, I get them every two years).   For that price, you could come to France, take a tour of the Loire Valley, get your MRI and still have spare change.  The only tricky part would be the paperwork: stuff like visas, insurance papers, and making sure your prescriptions/doctor’s instructions would be accepted on this side of the pond. 

But it seems that is no longer an issue.  After watching from afar as Germany, Belgium and the UK profited from US medical pricing excesses, France has finally jumped on the medical tourism bandwagon.  As of November 1, the French public hospital network (Assistance publique-Hôpitaux de Paris) is launching a medical tourism program aimed directly at foreign visitors who wish to benefit from competitive prices and quality care.  And while that care usually comes in a plain brown wrapper here in France (bland waiting rooms, ugly doctors offices, minimal creature comfort options), this new program offers packages that include medical care, hotel stay and concierge service.  You simply send in your application with your medical records to a hospital specialist with a secure server, and they send you back a quote for the package. 

The only catch is they want you to prepay. Though some are complaining that the new program is meant to attract Arab sheiks and millionaires, I suspect that your average American could enjoy major savings, especially if they could get their insurance company to agree to pay part of the cost.  I can’t find an actually fee breakdown for the 110 treatments covered by the program (for both adults and children), and rumor has it there is a 20-30% price hike for foreigners, but judging from my own experience (a visit to a GP costs 23 euros here), I’ll bet the rates are quite competitive.

While I loudly applaud Obamacare, it is but a first step towards a democratic health system in the US, a mere thumbtack in the toe of the mega-monster that has grown out of unregulated medical fees (remember Stephen Brill’s amazing article in Time Magazine in 2013? Here’s an update). So why not make the most of medical tourism?  Especially now that it’s official:  you can visit France AND have hip replacement for a fraction of the cost in the US!  What are you waiting for?


Rebecca said...

Unfortunately, there is very little chance that an American insurance company will pay for any part of care while overseas. I specifically asked my insurance company before leaving for several months abroad last year.

At first, the agent said yes, it would be covered as out of network, so I'd be on the hook for about half. But I made him check with a supervisor, because I really didn't believe that was the case and it was too important to trust to a low paid customer service rep.

Sure enough, he came back and said that no international treatment was covered at all. Thank goodness I have no pre-existing conditions, so my travel insurance would have covered anything I needed. But that wouldn't work in a case where you are actually bringing your medical records of an existing condition.

A medical savings account might work for that, though. And, though Obamacare was the merest first step, pretty much only for the pre-existing condition coverage, it looks like we won't even have that for much longer.

Personally, I'm planning to get out of the country as soon after the inauguration as possible and staying away for as much of the next four years as I can. And I hope to spend at least a few months a year in France, if not more. Hopefully not in need of health care, though.

Rebecca said...

I followed the links to older posts, which were great, and read the comments - which leads to a question. Can you tell us how much the supplemental insurance costs per month? Folks in the US who have Medicare have great socialized medicine, and when supplemental insurance is added, every single thing is covered. My mother, in her eighties, was paying about $250 a month for her supplemental insurance years ago, though I believe there may have been cheaper alternatives. I don't know what that runs now, and won't find out for another couple of years, but I'd love to know what that runs in France. Thanks!

Margie Rynn said...

I am so sorry that it took me so long to get back to you on this. I missed your comment somehow in my e-mail. It's hard to say exactly how much supplemental health insurance is in France as it depends on age, etc., but it's less than in the US. I just did an estimate with Matmut and they estimated 70 euros per month for pretty high coverage.

As far as paying for health care, even if your US health insurance doesn't pay, coverage over here is so much cheaper that for everyday stuff like doctors visits, it will still probably be less than your co-pay. As for the medical tourism aspect, that is done on dossier, so you would have to know ahead of time what kind of operation you were going for over here, and then submit a file with the hospital, and then work out what your insurance would cover. Don't quote me on this, but I think if you get in an accident over here, you will be treated, whether you are covered or not. It's a different mentality, the idea being, health care is a right, and taking care of people is the right thing to do.

Don't be too ready to move to France - wait until the elections. We've got our own potential horror show going on over here with Marine Le Pen.