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Prescriptions / Medications

France - Prescriptions / Medications



If you need medication in France that is only given with a prescription then you need to take the prescription to the pharmacy and present it with your ‘carte vitale’. You will only pay part of the cost of the prescription as the rest is covered by the insurance company, but the amount that is reimbursed will depend on your policy. There are some medications which cannot be refunded to you but there are others for which you can claim 100% of the cost such as those for fertility treatment and long term conditions.

On your first visit to your local pharmacy you can register your details with them and if they operate a computer system when you collect future prescriptions you will only need to give the ‘carte vitale’ and not pay for the prescription. Other systems will require you to pay then claim back the relevant reimbursement from the insurance company or the state. Refunds are paid directly into your bank account.

There is an increasing trend in France to opt for generic rather than branded medication. This is to keep the cost down. A patient is not permitted to refuse generic medication as the insurance company can then decide to refund only the lower cost rather than the cost of the branded medication. Refund rates can be as low as 15% for some types of medication. If a medication is not considered to be essential it is refunded at the lower rate.

To get an idea of the rate that will apply to your prescription you can simply look at the colour of the slip which is attached to every prescription issued. An orange slip is refunded at 15%, a blue slip is refunded at 30%, a white slip is refunded at 65% and a ‘barred’ slip is refunded at 100%. Costs are generally lower than in other countries as many medications are subsidised by the state.

Opening hours for pharmacies are usually from 8.30 am to 7.30 pm and most will close for two hours at lunchtimes. Those in larger urban areas will not close and the pharmacies will be on a rota to provide services out of hours, on Sundays and on public holidays. The details of this service are usually posted in the window of the pharmacy or in the local newspapers.

If you require a drug that is not on prescription you will only be able to get this from a pharmacy. There are no medications available from the supermarket or other shops as they are in the UK or the US. People are being encouraged to try non-prescription medication before they go to a doctor and get a prescription in a bid to ease the pressure on the health service. If you purchase a non-prescription drug you cannot claim back the cost of it from the health service or your insurer. Prices for these items will vary between pharmacies as the chemist is allowed to set their own price for these items.

The French word for pharmacy is ‘pharmacie’ and is pronounced in the same way, making it easy for English speaking expats. The sign used for a pharmacy is similar to that used in the UK, a green cross, making them easy to spot.

Pharmacies offer a range of services and if you are feeling unwell you can simply speak to the pharmacist for initial advice if you would rather not see a doctor. A pharmacist can also offer a wide range of advice on general health issues such as nutrition, weight and smoking. A pharmacist is also trained to check mushrooms for you and tell you which ones are safe to eat.

A pharmacist can also give you an emergency supply of medication if yours is stolen, as you may not be able to see a doctor right away. Many people prefer not to have conventional medication and your local pharmacy will stock a wide range of alternative therapies such as homeopathic remedies and aromatherapy oils. In addition you can purchase a range of veterinary products. Some pharmacies will sell cosmetics but generally you will not get a good selection.

Pharmacies are never part of a chain in France and nearly all are owned individually. Most towns will have at least one, so finding the help that you need is straightforward.




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