One of the Best Reasons for Retiring to France
This past week, American friends who spend a part of the year in Nice wrote me and asked, “Do you think the health care system for older people in France is equal to that in the U.S.? If you had a really serious issue, would you stay in France or fly back to the U.S.?”
My first reaction was to laugh. Not only would I NOT go back to the U.S. for medical care, I’d avoid it like the plague. In fact, enjoying the health care system in France is one of the best reasons for retiring here.
France has been ranked #1 in the world for healthcare by the WHO for years, though not all organizations agree with this top ranking. Even so, it’s always within the top 10 in the world. The CEOWorld Magazine’s Healthcare Index of 2023 ranked it 7th, while the U.S. ranked 30th by comparison. The report “is a statistical analysis of the overall quality of the health care system, including health care infrastructure; health care professionals (doctors, nursing staff, and other health workers) competencies; cost (USD per capita); quality medicine availability, and government readiness. Each country is given a score for each of these factors and then a total score out of 100.
According to this index, the ten countries with the best health care are:
1. South Korea
10. United Kingdom
One big reason healthcare ranks higher in France is that “access to healthcare is seen as a fundamental human right. People who lack quality healthcare are often left with a poorer quality of life and lower life expectancy than people who enjoy a stable, accessible, and affordable healthcare system.”
This is not true in the U.S. If you can afford medical insurance and the high cost of medical care in the U.S., then lucky you. You can have great healthcare…but only to a point. And the reason I say that is because the U.S. system of healthcare is based on profit, so the sicker you are, the more money everyone in the industry makes. Money in their pockets can influence the advice you are given, while in France, the healthier you are, the more money the government and the taxpayers save. This means that there is more preventative medicine, more alternative choices and it’s a lot less expensive.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the latest WHO data published in 2020, life expectancy in France was: Male 79.8, female 85.1 and total life expectancy was 82.5, which gave France a World Life Expectancy ranking of 11. In the United States, life expectancy was: Male 76.3, female 80.7 and total life expectancy was 78.5, which gave the United States a World Life Expectancy ranking of 40.
Now, after the Covid-19 pandemic, the current life expectancy for France in 2023 is 83.13 years, a 0.16% increase from 2022. The current life expectancy for the U.S. in 2023 is 79.11 years, a 0.08% increase from 2022.
But, forget the rankings. Talk to the people living here who have had personal experiences. Ask any Expat and you will get the same positive story. I had minor surgery on Friday and while I’m no expert on surgical procedures, my experience was exemplary and amazing! When I wrote one of my sisters this, she responded with, “Surgery? Amazing? I can’t wait to hear about that. I’ve had so much surgery and never thought of it as “amazing. LOL.”
My doctor set up the surgery at a small international private clinic in the 17th arrondissement, Clinique International du Parc Monceau. A few days in advance of the surgery, I was given an appointment to confer with the anesthesiologist in charge of my file who would prepare me for the adventure. Upon entering, I took a number from an automated machine, much like a check-in machine at the airport. When called, I was directed to a desk where a clerk completed all the documents with me and gave me a package of documents to read and some to sign. She asked me if I wanted a shared room or have a private room in which to recuperate after the procedure. I was only to stay a few hours, and then it was necessary to have someone accompany me home that same day.
The difference in the shared vs. private room cost was only 40€! At that price, I opted for “the gold.” The day before the surgery, I was informed by text what time to be at the clinic the next morning. It was early—7 a.m. When I arrived, I took a number in the same way and met with a clerk. At that point, I paid for all the costs by check and credit card. When I tell you that the bills were ridiculously inexpensive compared to U.S. medical costs, you’ll have to trust that it would have been at least 10 times what I forked out for such a procedure, all of which will be reimbursed by the French social security system and by my “mutuelle,” or private top-up insurance. The clerk then sent me to the floor where the surgery was to take place and where my private room was.
A staff member escorted me from there to my room and gave me a package filled with basic hospital gowns, slippers, cap, etc. I disrobed, dressed in the blue garb and loaded all my belongings into a secure locker. The room was simple and spotless with a typical hospital bed, TV, bedside rolling cart and mirrored dresser.
A few minutes later the staff put me on a gurney and rolled me into a waiting room with other patients also awaiting their surgery. They asked a series of questions to ensure that I was who I was and was having the procedure I was having. They prepared the port on my hand to administer the anesthesia. My doctor was one of those to come by, say hello, and prepare me for what was to come.
One French woman next to me answered very curtly to the staff. I thought it odd and unpleasant. A man on the other side of the room had a constant smile on his face and I thought he must be American (since we tend to have permanent smiles on our faces!). I felt I must have been smiling, too. It was very orderly and the staff was very nice, friendly, and casual. One gentleman actually pronounced my name the American way and I asked him how he knew to say it like that, rather than like “Adrienne.” He had learned it, he said.
As they rolled me into the operating room, my doctor asked what music I’d like to hear as I gently fall asleep. “Aretha Franklin,” I exclaimed, and in a moment R-E-S-P-E-C-T was playing loudly and everyone was moving their bodies to the beat. I cried with laughter as they put the oxygen/anesthesia on my nose. I barely heard the whole song when the next thing I knew, I was gently waking up in recovery. My eyelashes were stuck together from the dried tears.
Someone was there in an instant to take care of me and prepare me for being wheeled back to my private room. It was completely over and I was feeling nothing. They asked what I wanted for breakfast: coffee, tea, croissant, baguette, apple compote, juice, etc., and wheeled it in on a cart a few moments later. This all took place between 8 a.m. from the time they wheeled me into the first holding room until about 9:25 a.m. when I landed back in my room.
“Guess what?” one of the staff asked. “You don’t have to wait till 1 p.m. to leave if you want. Your friend can come at 11 if you like.” So, I called my friend and she showed up at 11 a.m. By 12 noon, the doctor had stopped by, given instructions for the follow-up, had uploaded a series of docs to my online account, and said we’d have a follow-up Zoom in about a month that she would arrange. If I had any pain or any questions, I was to text her directly at the number on the documents. I was free to go. We left in a taxi that arrived minutes later and that was that.
I spent the rest of the day and the weekend taking it easy, but never had any discomfort or any pain from the procedure. It seems like a miracle, but what was most impressive was the pleasant and gentle care from beginning to end. I never felt like a “number” even though that’s how it starts out. All the way through I was treated with respect, like a real human being with basic needs. Any fear I might have had prior to the procedure would have been worthless, although I never did have any fear or any worry because of the confidence I have in the system.
So, do I think the health care system for older people in France is equal to that in the U.S.? If I had a really serious issue, would I stay in France or fly back to the U.S.? What do you think?
Here’s a very comprehensive article about healthcare in France by Commonwealth Fund worth reading and noting.
So, if you’re thinking of retiring in France and healthcare is at the top of your concerns, take it off your list. It’s one of the best reasons for being here!
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group®
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