17 February 2007

Ahh, la France...

It's been a while since I've written anything specifically about France but the time has come again. Let me preface my remarks by saying that I really enjoy living in France, the people are wonderful and the food is delicious (though a bit heavy on the meats, but nothing like Germany). What could a person like me complain about? Well, the same thing that all of the French people complain about, the French Government and, specifically, the health care system.

Here's my story. I came to France to teach in their public schools as an English assistant, that means that I'm an employee of the government. As a visitor with a temporary residency permit I'm entitled to coverage under the national health care program. It sounds like a great idea until you actually get down to the nuts and bolts of it. To make the long story short, though I've been in France since September 2006 and have been working since October 2006, I won't get full coverage until March 2007. Then I leave the country in April 2007. Seven months in the country. Two months of coverage. Oh, and of course I've been paying for this since I began working.

Now, how is this possible you ask? Well, like many jobs you don't get immediate coverage and it's the same thing here, 90 days are required at the job before you get the benefits. This doesn't come as so much of a surprise, but again, the details. It's not that you someone turns on the tap and your benefits begin flowing on your 91st day of employment. No, you can apply to get your benefits starting on that day. As you may know from some of my previous rants, applying to the French Government for anything substantial is at least a 45-day process. This time it has taken a bit longer.

Since I am always looking for the opportunity to help others (and complain about the French government) here's a guide to getting government medical coverage in France, compiled from my own experiences:

  1. Get message from employer that I can begin the application process.
  2. Ask where I do that and get conflicting advice until Esther calls the central number and gets some correct information.
  3. Take my papers to the Social Security office and attempt communication with civil servant.
  4. Civil servant is surprisingly patient with mumbling foreigner and demands one more document, a pay stub from the employer.
  5. Ask at place of employment how to get a pay stub. Get response that the only person who can possibly do that is sick for two weeks.
  6. Wait for person to get healthy.
  7. Talk to said person and get pay stub.
  8. Take pay stub back to social security office. Speak with another civil servant who speaks very quickly. Leave a bit confused but understanding that you need to wait "a good month" before you will receive my coverage and card.
  9. Wait said month.
  10. Receive fat envelope in the mail from the Social Security office and eagerly open it.
  11. Feel crushing disappointment when you see that they returned the entire file with a letter at the front explaining that you are not eligible for coverage because you are not authorized to work in France.
  12. Feel confusion set in. Deep confusion. Didn't you include a pay stub? And a copy of your residency permit that says that you can work right on the front of it?
  13. Realize that the first page of the file is a copy of your temporary temporary residency permit, the paper that you got while you waited for them to make the real card. This thing says that it itself doesn't authorize you to work, though, of course, the real one does.
  14. Remember that you include a pay stub. Look for it in the file and realize that it is the second page.
  15. Emphasize that your pay stub, from the French government is the second page.
  16. Ask yourself, "If a person saw this pay stub from the government, how could they possibly think that I'm not authorized to work?"
  17. Realize that this person never saw this pay stub because... THEY NEVER LOOKED PAST THE FIRST PAGE OF YOUR FILE!
  18. Anger.
  19. Realization that this person will get to retire with 80% of his/her salary (plus full benefits) at the age of 55 for such job performance.
  20. More anger, though of a different sort, more visceral this time.
  21. Anger flows to Esther who talks to her parents. Her mom resolves to go with you to the Social Security office together.
  22. Go to the Social Security office with Esther's mom. Speak with civil servant who explains that you need one more little piece of paper in your file. She says it came with your residency permit when you picked that up. Respond that you never received such a little paper.
  23. Go home with Esther's mom to make calls to figure out how to get a replacement for this paper.
  24. Learn that the paper came from your medical examination ("Turn your head and cough...") not with your residency permit.
  25. More anger because you had this little paper with you the whole time though no one ever told you that they needed it.
  26. Return to Social Security office with Esther's mom.
  27. Realize that you forgot the file at home. Run home and get it. (OK, I admit, this was my fault, but it didn't help the frustration level at all.)
  28. Give civil servant little paper.
  29. Civil servant promises that you will get your card on Monday.
  30. Wait for Monday.
I'm still on Step 30, I'll tell you all tomorrow how it works out.

So that's been my experience with the French system so far. Pay for benefits you cannot receive and be told conflicting advice from different civil servants and their agencies. But hey, c'est la vie, non?

That said, I've counted that there are 10 weeks left on my working contract and four of those will be spent on paid vacation, beginning with the next two. Ha! Maybe this system isn't so bad after all...


  1. <3 government <3

    BTW, I just saw your Tractatus comment on my class blog and cracked up...

  2. unfrozencavemandad6:57 PM

    I work in an industry that used to be (and in some instances still is) run like the French government. Hint: It is not a long-term sustainable model, although the defintion of "long-term sustainable" can probably be measured in decades or centuries compared to the realities of the free-market. Hey.......no philosophical debate now on whether there really is such a thing as a "free-market".......

  3. Oh, I am so glad I wasn't around for #27.