Luckily neither Bill nor I have any health issues so the few visits to medical personnel that we’ve had since moving to France have all been what here is often called a contrôl that we think of as a checkup. We’ve been to our family doctor, a clinic for blood work, the dentist, a dermatologist, and most recently the ophthalmologist. Visits like that in the US were always stressful for me so when you add in the challenge of conducting those encounters in another language, I can feel my blood pressure rising. Because we get many questions from blog readers about the French universal health care system, of which we are now members, we like to include our own experiences that might help those wondering what to expect. The highlighted links above will take you to the previous related posts and today I’ll talk about our latest rendez-vous.
Just prior to moving from the US we made an appointment with our ophthalmologist to get updated prescriptions for both glasses and contact lenses. We were scheduled for the next day after my phone call and when we arrived the receptionist confirmed our insurance information. Another staff member then had each of us read letters on a chart hung on the wall and then had us stare into 3 different machines that, I suppose, helped them evaluate our vision. While waiting to see the doctor a third staff member showed us a wide range of glasses frames and described the features of the various lenses that could be used. It was then time to see the ophthalmologist who completed the classic “look into the blinding light” exam followed by clicking lenses in front of you and asking, “which is better: A or B?” We were satisfied and accustomed to paying $120 for these annual visits that involved the doctor and 3 employees.
Although we can get a same-day appointment with our family doctor here, we had heard that routine visits to a specialist can take longer. After all, it was a 3-month wait to get an appointment with the dermatologist. Since we prefer face-to-face conversations, instead of phone calls, we walked into the office recommended to us by previous Carcassonne residents and bloggers Tracy and Alan. The receptionist told us it would be 9 months before we could get an appointment and that we would need to confirm the date 2 weeks in advance or it would be canceled. There are 2 other doctors in the same practice who had equally long waiting lists.
The big day arrived and we were directed to the waiting room where we exchanged “bonjours” with everyone already there. At medical offices in Carcassonne we have always requested back-to-back appointments and savvy receptionists apparently alert the doctors to expect to see both of us at the same time, and it’s never been a problem. In this case the ophthalmologist called both of us into his office together where we received almost exactly the same examination we had been used to in the US. He even used that machine that you look into where you see a highway and there’s a hot air balloon floating in the distance. For the part where you have to say if a particular lens makes the image better or worse, instead of a large piece of equipment suspended in front of your face, he used a round pair of frames that reminded me of Harry Potter into which he placed the various lenses. At the conclusion of the exams we were given prescriptions and asked to pay the receptionist. The per person fee was 35 euros, of which 16.50 euros was reimbursed within 4 days by universal health care, leaving our out of pocket charge at 18.50 euros or approximately $20.50. That was accomplished by one doctor and one receptionist.
Notes: Although a referral from your family doctor is not required to visit an ophthalmologist, it might help you to get an earlier appointment. If you have a top-up insurance provider (a mutuel) they may be able to get you in earlier as well. Had we been willing to travel to Toulouse, one hour by train, our mutuel could have arranged for an appointment within a few days. In an emergency we would go to the hospital.