When I first decided to start my life in France after years of being an au pair and a student, I started to hear talk of something called a mutuelle. I had already been enjoying the benefits of seriously discounted health care for years at this point, and I often relished in the fact that my monthly prescriptions were only a few euros instead of upwards of $40 per month back in the states.
You may be thinking, “Huh? But I thought going to the doctor was free in France and so was all medicine.” Health care is much, much less expensive here than in the United States, but as they say, nothing in life is free.
Why You Should Get a Mutuelle in France
If you’re a permanent resident of France, you’re eligible to receive government-provided health insurance within the first three months of being here. It works like a co-payment system, and much of your medical costs are reimbursed up front by the standard, public health insurance. For example, if you go to the doctor and you’re uninsured, you’ll pay around 25 euros (still a steal, if you ask me). If you sign up for public health insurance, you’ll pay around seven euros. If you get a mutuelle (some call it “top-up” coverage in English) in France, you’ll pay nothing.
Having that extra coverage ensures that you don’t pay anything at the doctor’s office and most prescriptions are covered too. If you have to stay overnight at the hospital, depending on the plan that you choose, you won’t have to pay for that either.
If you wear glasses or contacts or enjoy having clean teeth, you’ll want to sign up for one as well. I wear both glasses and contacts (and like keeping my pearly whites, well, white) and so my mutuelle is a lifesaver. I went from paying hundreds of dollars every year for my eyes to paying nothing.
I haven’t even begun to mention all of the other perks you could be enjoying if you sign up for your own mutuelle. Specialists such as dermatologists, chiropractors, and osteopaths are also covered (again, depending on your plan). Furthermore, you can sign up no matter your medical history and without fear that a preexisting condition will make the monthly free skyrocket. Oh, and if you’re pregnant or plan to be, a mutuelle is also really helpful.
Shout out to my French mother-in-law for pushing me to finally sign up. I think for me, seven euros to go to the doctor just seemed so sweet that I couldn’t imagine paying even less. My American mentality prevented me from signing up for a mutuelle for several years when in reality I could have started benefitting from one all the way back in 2012.
How to Know Which Plan to Choose
Not all mutuelles are created equal, but neither is everyone’s health care needs. Stephen, for example, almost never goes to the doctor, so a mutuelle for him would be a waste of money. Furthermore, if you don’t have terrible eyesight as I do, you don’t need a plan that will help you save on glasses and contacts.
When you begin shopping around for a plan, you’ll notice that coverage is determined in percentages. I recommend opting for coverage that is over 100%. Start with at least 150%. And if you have problems with your teeth or need to visit the eye doctor, consider going up to 175–200% coverage. I know that asking for over 100% coverage may sound a bit much, but some doctors charge more than the standard fee set out by the government. You’re going to want that extra coverage just in case you find yourself at a specialist (like the dentist, ophthalmologist, or chiropractor) that naturally charges more than your primary care physician.
You’ll be charged a monthly fee in order to benefit from your mutuelle. The cost is nominal, especially when compared to the ever-climbing costs of private health insurance in the US. For example, my mutuelle is one step above the “basic” plan, and I pay around 30 euros per month. There are several different providers to choose from:
Once you sign up, you’ll receive your mutuelle card. It’s not a plasticized card like your carte vitale (the card you use to benefit from the standard public health care), rather a small piece of paper you’ll have to be careful not to lose.
My advice? Take your time when comparing plans, ask your French friends for advice, and don’t get too hung up on finding “expat” specific plans. If you are a resident of France, you have all of the rights of a French person. These so-called expat-specific plans tend to be much more expensive for no real reason that I can see. And, if you don’t earn a lot of money, you could be eligible for a state-run mutuelle program called the CSS, so, if you can, don’t forget to look into that option, either.
There are plenty of mutuelle comparison sites that can help you decide as well. This one by Le Comparateur Assurance (The Insurance Comparer — a great resource for comparing any type of insurance in France) is my favorite. However, I will say this again, your French friends will be your best asset here. They’ve had this type of insurance their whole lives and are the best place to start for some advice!
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