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.” The answer you really want to know is “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, back up the 55 steps, and I’m going to physical therapy 5 days a week. I’m walking there and back. It’s been a really long road; albeit, an amazing experience. It’s given me great respect for the French, their hospitals and the staffs. 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 travelers insurance company hasn’t kicked in to repay me, but so far, the bills are minimal. My surgeon and the hospital continue to say there’s no charge for the emergency surgery or 10-day hospital stay afterwards. 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 is going to step out of her carefree expat role to talk about something that is 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 now since September 18, the date 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, prior to the upcoming election in the US, seems the 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, for any type of formal identification, or for 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 who was 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 who was awaiting her second knee operation. Not because of my room nor roommate, but I was pretty miserable. No morphine or heavy pain killers were given to me prior to surgery. I was told morphine was not allowed because of its adverse affects 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 on level of surgery aftercare to another.
Fortunately I was cognizant that I was in France, that I was alive, and that I 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 was agreeing to.
For ten days I occupied a hospital bed in a large double room 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 hospital room with Chantal
My daily care during the ten days in the hospital (“hopital” in French) was extraordinarily good. Except for the bad 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 24/7.
A fabulous nurse and aide at Carémeau Hospital
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 boo-hooed.
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. There I discovered I was headed for a brand new hospital, built in 2016, with a sterling reputation for orthopedic rehabilitation. Case closed. I was content with my fate.
(Upper left) Nurse and English-speaking Doctor (Upper right) Rehab hospital outside Nimes (Lower left) My physical therapist, Clement, also English/speaking (Lower right) Me in motion
French Healthcare: Cost
It’s day 40 since I have been 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 for anything.
The costs for the items above were 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.
For time spent in the rehab hospital, I will receive a bill when I leave. A friend who inquired about payment for the rehab hospital was told it will cost 197 euros per day ($224). Included in the cost is physical therapy: 1 1/2 hours each day, 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 to my friends. Or, she might have wanted to get rid of me. Draw your own conclusion. Either way, I’m “outta here.”
The plan is for me 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’ll be able to return to independent living and out-patient rehab.
Next: US Healthcare “A comparison”
Stay tuned for Part 2 …..
For More on French Healthcare for Expats Contact Renestance