L'envers du décor (l'ahnver du daykor = the flip side of the coin, behind the scenes)
We've got free health care, baby! Isn't that the greatest thing ever?!
Now let's back up a bit and take a look at how it really goes down. First off, you need a green card. Literally, the green card you see above. It's called a Carte Vitale (kart vee-tal). The chip has your family status and coverage status on it (for example, during pregnancy you update your chip so that all the ultrasounds and extraordinary consults are reimbursed). You present this card to your doctor, who has a chip reader, when you pay her and then you are reimbursed automatically. If you don't have the card, the doctor gives you a form that you are supposed to send in to your local health insurance office. I, of course, never forget to send those in and hardly ever find them at the bottom of my bag . . . The moral of the story : make sure you have the card when you go to the doctor.
Now where it gets complicated is finding a doctor who is right for you. Or right. Or available for you. You can usually get an appointment with a General Practitioner within a week. For some, like Dermatology and EN&T you need a written referral from your GP or you won't be reimbursed the full amount. However, if you need to see any other doctor, let's say a dentist, you might want to go with the Mr. Bean method of dentistry. It's not that there aren't any doctors, but there aren't enough. Or they've got awful bedside manners. Or they haven't taken on a new client since the 90's. Seriously, if I had a euro for every receptionist that told me in a chirpy voice that the docteur was not taking on any new clients I could go places, far away places. All of this means that sometimes to see an ophthalmologist you have to wait 3-6 months.
I'll skip "Giving birth in France" for now because :
a) I don't want to traumatize you.
b) It deserves its own post.
c) Read "a" again, slowly.
While we now go to a dentist in Paris (I think he's a DIY enthusiast in his spare time) and I have and will travel to the next town over to have any future children, we have a super GP. I'll call her Dr. C. I randomly picked her out of the yellow pages (and yes, they are called les pages jaunes) when our Pediatrician kicked us out. You did read that right. Our Pediatrician dropped us. Why? Because on the weekend that my father-in-law passed away, we forgot to call, thus going AWOL on an appointment. There was no point arguing. No reason to get into the details of WHY. So we moved on.
Dr. C. is awesome. She is kind and actually likes children and foreigners such as myself and, no that is not always the case here. She's one of the few doctors I've come across that will let you phone her directly, likes it when you bring in the whole family, chats about current events, personally delivers your child's stuffed animal to your house and YES she is an excellent doctor. I remember when Little Sister was getting her 2 year check up (there are three mandatory ones) and she proudly showed us the new eye-chart for the younger set. I could have hugged her, for there, right next to each French animal name, was the English name. Four years after Big Sister had given her an introductory English lesson on Old McDonald's Farm, she'd remembered this detail and could now follow along as our youngest said "duck" and "cow" on the new chart. Little Sister thinks Dr. C. is a super-hero. Something's broken? "Dr.C fix it!" You stubbed your toe? "Dr.C fix it!" The faucet's leaking? "Dr. C fix it!" You've never seen a kid more thrilled at the sight of a stethoscope and tongue depressor.
For being good at what she does and good at taking care of the people she is not greatly paid. At our last appointment I remarked how she must be "thrilled" at the 1 euro pay raise doctors got for 2011. Yep, she said, it had been FOUR years since the last 1 euro raise. 23 euros for a pediatric consult.
Next up : Part 2 : The French Pharmacy or Why This Nation is so Heavily Sedated.