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?

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