How to Choose a Mutuelle
With over 80% of French people having a mutuelle, it is certainly worth thinking about getting one for you and your family. Remember that there is no National Health Service equivalent that is ‘free at the point of need’ as there is in the UK, although if you have an emergency just get to the nearest hospital and sort out paperwork and payment later.
What is a Mutuelle?A mutuelle is a ‘top up’ health care insurance plan that covers the difference between the state contribution to your health care that comes with your job, UK tax status or French employment status. It is important to note that it is illegal to move to France permanently without having your state health care provision in place, although you are not legally required to have a mutuelle to top up the difference.
Many British expats find that choosing a mutuelle is one of those paperwork-heavy tasks that is simply too difficult to take in when they first start their new life in France. With literally hundreds of mutuelle providers to choose from, it can be a minefield, especially if your language skills are not yet up to scratch.
It is also common for expats to arrive thinking that their EHIC card (the old E111 European health insurance) will provide them with free healthcare until they’ve sorted out their paperwork. While this may work for some people, it is actually illegal to use an EHIC card if you are resident in France as it is only for European tourists. Unless you are employed (by a French or UK company that will pay your ‘coitisations’ – your state contributions) you will need to have an ‘E’ form from the UK or register your business activities in France.
The state provision that comes with your tax status usually refunds around 70% of most medical costs. The mutuelle is to reimburse the remaining 30% and to pay some or all the cost for items that are not covered by the state, such as contact lenses, glasses, routine health checks such as smear tests and dental check ups or visits to specialists such as psychologists and dermatologists.
Will I Need a Health Check?The fact that the majority of French people have a mutuelle means that there are some very competitive deals available, although people with existing health issues may find they have less choice. It is unusual to need a health check before joining a mutuelle and they usually cover you from the day you sign up to the policy, although there can be a delay in paying for expensive treatment so people don’t just sign up when they have a problem.
Although it is strange to say that mutuelles can be competitively priced when you do not have to pay for anything health-related in the UK (except for prescriptions, which are usually 100% covered when you have a mutuelle) it is worth remembering that the French healthcare system is regularly voted among the best in the world. There are virtually no waiting lists – you can often pop into your GP’s or a specialist’s office and have an appointment within 48 hours – and if you take regular medication you will not have to pay for prescriptions.
The best way to choose a mutuelle is through personal recommendation, although be sure to speak to people that have similar circumstances. There is no point knowing that a 60 year old man with health issues has a great mutuelle if you are a young self—employed family as your requirements will be completely different.
Start by simply calling in to a local mutuelle that you like the look of. It may sound like a very basic way to go about things, but the fact that you will have to call in with paperwork and questions from time to time means that it’s a good idea to feel comfortable with your local mutuelle representative. Try not to be swayed by introductory offers unless you have spoken to someone in the office and know they can provide the cover that’s suited to your requirements.
One point to note is that mutuelles each have a range of plans and it can be hard to choose which is best for you. One area of difference is usually eye care, including getting eye tests and glasses, which is very expensive in France without a mutuelle. If you are planning regular trips back to the UK, it may be worth simply having your eyes tested in the UK and saving the cost of the superior mutuelle plan.