Guide to French Health Care System

1. Structure of Health System

The system of health care in France is known as l'assurance maladie, or Sécu, an abbreviation of sécurité-sociale, although the latter term also includes the system of social security in France.

Health care is funded by a dual system of health insurance comprising:

  • A State-controlled health insurance social security system, the l’assurance maladie and;
  • A separate voluntary health insurance system called assurance complémentaire provided through mutual organisations and private insurers.

Historically, l’assurance maladie comprised a number of private or mutual insurance bodies who collected insurance premiums from their clients, which were then used to pay for the costs of health care.

They developed after the Second World War as a series of mutual schemes between employers and employees, and the present arrangements still bear the hallmarks of this approach.

Although the insurance funds continue to remain ostensibly ‘private’ organisations, they now operate under the supervision of the government, which has the ultimate financial responsibility.

This means the funds are now effectively a branch of the State social security system.

The main health insurance fund is a General Fund called the Régime Général. It covers about 85% of the population working in industry and commerce, as well as the unemployed and those retired and not affiliated to another fund.

Whilst the social security system picks up most of your health costs, you will need to take out voluntary health insurance to cover those medical costs that will not be picked up by the State, although it is not compulsory to do so.

Within the Régime Général the Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA) guarantees permanent health cover for all those who are legally entitled to reside in France, whether in work or inactive.

At a local level the General Fund is administered by a health authority, the Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM).

In the past, if you were planning to run your own business in France there is a separate State controlled insurance scheme for the self-employed called Régime Social des Indépendants (RSI).

Since 2018 the RSI has been in the process of being abolished, so that from 2020 all those affiliated to it have been transferred to their local CPAM.

There are also separate health insurance funds for agricultural employees, called the Régime Agricole, as well as other insurance funds for certain groups, collectively called Régimes Spéciaux, such as the funds for railway and electricity workers.

Next: Getting Health Cover

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