The French healthcare system has been under strain for decades. It is heavily indebted and, if some French nationals are to be believed, also offers substandard levels of care. With the French government raising prices in the hope of plugging holes in their finances, a growing band of renegade French professionals have now chosen to defect to the UK system.
Typically in France, charges for French health insurance are taken at source straight out of the wage packet. However the sums taken to cover even basic medical care are now regularly topping 15% of many people’s salaries; a ridiculously large sum of money by any reckoning. Sadly, most French workers have no choice but to pay these exorbitant health insurance costs or risk either being taken to court or finding themselves with no medical cover.
One group of workers though has some control over the sums of money they pay for health insurance, and are now fighting back against the government. Those who are self-employed – such as many white collar professionals like solicitors and accountants – are required to pay their health insurance premiums manually, rather than it being taken at source by their employer. Whilst these payments are supposedly compulsory like every other tax, tens of thousands (some say hundreds of thousands) of hard-working self-employed French are refusing to pay the government what it demands.
Thoroughly dissatisfied with the service they are receiving – and the money they are expected to pay for it – a growing group of French professionals is now vetoing payments to the ‘sick’ healthcare system. Instead, they have chosen to take out more cost-effective private health insurance policies
with companies in other countries. The UK, in particular, long envied for their National Health Service, are benefiting from this influx of new health insurance policy seekers from abroad.
While most of these ‘deserters’ will still receive treatment in France, rather than travelling to the UK for it, their British health insurance policy will pay for any treatment they need. In essence they’re getting the same level of care, but are using this ‘loophole’ to keep their costs down and pay less than they would through the French government directly.
So is this system legal? This is, in many ways, the million dollar question. On the one hand, the French government who is struggling to keep its head above the water in terms of finances is doing everything it can to increase government revenues. The battle for health insurance dollars (or is that Euros?) is therefore fiercely contested and the French government claims that these defectors are breaking the law.
Stiff penalties may be applied to those who refuse to pay, though the thousands of self-employed individuals who are supposedly ‘at fault’ paint a rather different picture. Namely, they claim that it is anti-EU for the French government to be able to force them into paying for health insurance issued by the French only. Anti-competition laws present in Europe, they claim, make it perfectly acceptable, legal and moral for them to seek the best healthcare they can at the most competitive price.
There is now talk of the case going through the European Court of Justice where a final ruling can be made to settle the disagreement between the French government and the troublesome defectors. It has been claimed that these excessive tax payments are crippling the French people and that a valid alternative will make a significant improvement in many people’s finances and – as a result – their quality of life.